Team Notes Week 15 2018

By Bob Harris
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NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF

Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...

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Arizona Cardinals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

There was no momentum that carried over from the frozen tundra of Green Bay, and the Cardinals' win there last weekend.

Instead Sunday, as AZCardinals.com's Darren Urban put it, "The Cardinals looked as troubled as they have been all season on offense" in a rough 17-3 loss to the Detroit Lions at State Farm Stadium.

The Cardinals gave up three sacks and struggled to deal with the Lions' pass rush, and they ran for just 61 yards as a team, averaging 2.9 yards per rush.

"We didn't create any movement up front on the offensive side of the ball to generate some positive plays on first and second down," head coach Steve Wilks said.

"We have to do a much better job protecting the quarterback, allowing him to go through his progression. And we have to protect the football."

Wilks said he was "extremely surprised" at his team's performance coming off the win at Lambeau Field.

"Great momentum, big win. We had a great week of practice," Wilks said. "We have to learn how to finish. That's what we didn't do."

The Cardinals were able to avoid being blanked for the second time this season thanks to Zane Gonzalez's field goal in the fourth quarter.

According to Associated Press sports writer Bob Baum, the offense "sputtered" with only five first downs in the first half and no points from its best drive, which ended in a missed 54-yard try from Gonzalez.

"Sometimes when you go three-and-out early, it's hard to get in any kind of rhythm," quarterback Josh Rosen said.

The second half was only slightly better, but saw the Cardinals booed after a three-and-out late in the third quarter.

The fans cheered loudest for the continuation of longtime wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald's streak of games with at least one catch, which is up to 224.

Fitzgerald figured to be more of a focal point with Christian Kirk out for the season because of a broken foot.

But Fitzgerald -- who became the NFL leader for most receptions with one team at 1,286 - had one catch through three quarters.

"Obviously we had an awareness on him," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "We know he is going to get the ball. We know he is going to get open in critical situations. You saw that as the game was going on and they got back to him and he was able to make great plays. You just kind of hold your breath the whole time because he can change the game in a second."

Down 3-0 in the third quarter, the Cardinals had three straight first downs on their second possession of the second half. Then Rosen was intercepted by the Lions' Darius Slay, who returned the ball 67 yards for a touchdown.

"It'll be a frustrating Monday," Rosen said, looking ahead to breaking down the offense on film, "but a Monday that needs to happen."

Among the lowlights: On the drive for the field goal, the Cardinals - looking for some way to get points - tried a direct snap to rookie running back Chase Edmonds on first and goal from the Detroit 8, but it resulted in a holding penalty that backed them up 10 yards.

Arizona had to settle for Gonzalez's 22-yard field goal with 8:14 to play. The Cardinals finished with eight penalties for 83 yards.

"We have to be able to muster up more than three points," Fitzgerald said. "Converting more consistently on third downs and extending drives would be huge."

Three games remain, including a cross-country trip this week to Atlanta before games against the playoff-bound Rams and (probably playoff-bound) Seahawks.

Finding more than three points weekly will be imperative. But it's by no means guaranteed.

Meanwhile, as noted above. ... Fitzgerald finally caught Jerry Rice.

The Cardinals star receiver passed Rice on Sunday for most catches with one team in NFL history. Fitzgerald's 14-yard catch with 5 minutes, 48 seconds left in the third quarter against the Detroit Lions gave him 1,282 catches in his 15 seasons with the Cardinals. Rice had 1,281 with the 49ers.

Fitzgerald was drafted by the Cardinals third overall in 2004. He's signed four contracts over his 15-year career with a handful of extensions added throughout.

Fitzgerald, 35, is in the last year of his current deal. ...

J.J. Nelson, who has four catches for 21 yards coming into the game, had three for 43 on Sunday. And he was open for a potential TD in the end zone deep, except Rosen overthrew him. Receiver Trent Sherfield looks like he can develop into a solid player, albeit with a small sample size thus far.

Fitzgerald, who Rosen said was "doubled pretty aggressively" much of the game, finished with five receptions but the four post-record came with the Lions backing off. Running back David Johnson was targeted 10 times and made eight catches -- for a mere 12 yards.

"I know I definitely could have made a couple more guys miss on tackling, but it was just a rough one," said Johnson, who had 49 yards rushing on 15 attempts.

The Cardinals had 126 yards - and 114 of their net passing yards - in the fourth quarter. Rosen finished 26-of-41 for 240 yards.

Johnson got his touches but he could go nowhere.

Wilks lamented a lack of push and that was noticeable given the amount of times the Cards tried to find running room between the tackles. And 12 yards on eight catches isn't going to work - and one of his receptions went for 10 yards. ...

For the record, Wilks told reporters on Wednesday that Johnson didn’t practice with a quad injury, but is expected to play; I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...

Although Sherfield is drawing rave reviews, the Cardinals listed Chad Williams, who hasn't played for five weeks due to ankle and hamstring injuries, is listed as the starter opposite Fitzgerald on the team's official website heading into this week. ...

One last note here. ... Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche won't be in the lineup for the final three games of the season.

The team announced on Monday that Nkemdiche will go on injured reserve with a knee injury that requires surgery. Nkemdiche, who played 22 snaps on Sunday and missed three other games with injury, ends the year with a career-high 4.5 sacks and 32 tackles.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh Rosen, Mike Glennon
RBs: David Johnson, Chase Edmonds, T.J. Logan
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, Trent Sherfield, Chad Williams, J.J. Nelson
TEs: Jermaine Gresham, Ricky Seals-Jones, Gabe Holmes, Darrell Daniels

Atlanta Falcons

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure reported, "A dejected Matt Ryan snapped off his chin strap and screamed in the air after a fumbled snap in the red zone -- when center Alex Mack hit a motioning Mohamed Sanu with the ball -- led to a missed scoring opportunity in the fourth quarter.

"Ryan's rage was indicative of how frustrating the season has been for the reeling Atlanta Falcons. And Sunday's implosion at Lambeau Field marked another sign of why it's time for the Falcons to turn their attention toward evaluating the roster and fixing the issues for 2019. ..."

McClure went on to note that head coach Dan Quinn figured his team would get things corrected after he called for the locker room leaders to step up and take charge. Instead, turnovers, penalties, execution issues, and an overall lack of discipline plagued the 4-9 Falcons again as they dropped their fifth straight game after a 34-20 loss to the Packers. It assured a below-.500 mark for the first time under Quinn.

What was Quinn's message to the team afterward?

"I said, 'As dark as it is, the men that will get it right here in these three weeks are the men that are standing in this room,'" Quinn said. "Just wanting it to get better isn't a great way for real progress. You've got to make changes that are consistent to playing better."

So what's next for the Falcons?

Quinn doesn't want to look at the big picture, but McClure sees signs of the Falcons spinning ahead to see what can be done to resolve a variety of problems, even if those signs were minor. The most obvious was the benching of right tackle Ryan Schraeder, who was signed to five-year, $31.5 million extension ($12.5 million guaranteed) in November 2016. Schraeder, who is signed through 2021, gave way to Ty Sambrailo, acquired from Denver in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick.

It was the major move along the offensive line, with right guard Ben Garland benched in favor of Zane Beadles.

The Falcons also gave rookie cornerback Isaiah Oliver, a second-round draft pick from Colorado, a more extended look against the Packers after starter Robert Alford struggled early in the contest.

Quinn also utilized running back Brian Hill some at fullback and gave safety Ryan Neal a look on special teams. But Quinn didn't make a big deal out of giving other players long looks, although it's something that would be wise to do the remainder of the season.

Despite some glaring holes, the Falcons have enough talent to be competitive, with players such as the one-time MVP Ryan, five-time Pro Bowler Julio Jones, and one-time Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones, just to name a few. But they've sorely missed key injured players such as two-time Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman (groin), Pro Bowl strong safety Keanu Neal (ACL), free safety Ricardo Allen (Achilles), and Deion Jones (foot) before he returned to the lineup last week against the Ravens.

The fact that the Falcons won't find themselves in the playoffs this season probably contributed to some of the frustration Sunday.

Ryan, who said he didn't make a good enough throw on the play to Austin Hooper that led to a pick-six by Bashaud Breeland, really showed his anger after that failed snap. But at the same time, Ryan put the blame on himself for the snap going array.

"It's the moment," Ryan said of his emotions. "I think we are all competitive and we all want to win. We understand the lack of execution in critical moments costs you.

"It's OK to be frustrated. It's part of this game. What we've got to do is do something about it, correct it, and channel that frustration to getting better."

We'll see if there's any improvement over the last three games, starting with next Sunday at home against Arizona.

Worth noting. ... Julio Jones continues to have an excellent year for the Falcons, and he's beginning to make his argument as one of the all-time wide receivers in the NFL.

Jones already holds a number of NFL records, and he added another one to that list on Sunday. The five-time Pro Bowler caught eight passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns in the Falcons' loss to the Packers, taking his yardage total for the season up to 1,429.

This is the fifth-consecutive season that Jones has gained at least 1,400 yards, making him the first player in NFL history to accomplish that feat.

Long-time Indianapolis Colts receiver Marvin Harrison was the previous record holder, having gained at least 1,400 yards in four consecutive seasons. There are a few players who have gained that yardage total in three straight seasons, including Antonio Brown, Calvin Johnson, Jerry Rice and Demaryius Thomas.

Notably, Jones has also had at least 80 receptions in each of those seasons. He is currently the NFL's leader in receiving yards this season. ...

Also of interest. ... The Falcons have been working constantly to get something positive going on the ground, and they did just that on Sunday. Atlanta ran the ball 24 times for 107 yards, marking only the third time this season they've surpassed 100 rushing yards in a game. Ito Smith led the way for the Falcons on the ground with 11 carries for 60 yards. Tevin Coleman chipped in with 10 carries for 45 yards.

On the injury front. ... In the closing minutes of Sunday's loss, Hooper went down to the ground with a knee injury and looked to be in pain.

He eventually limped off the field with the help of the team's trainers, but given the Falcons' bad luck with injuries to major contributors this season there was reason for concern. Quinn assuaged some of those feelings on Monday when he provided an update on Hooper's health.

"Good news from him, nothing for him that is long-term," Quinn said. "That's what we feared for yesterday, when you do the evaluation, but you don't know until the next day. Good news on his front. We'll see where we end up this week on him, but definitely not ruling him out for the week. But it's not a long-term issue so we're thrilled about that."

The third-year tight end is having his best season to date since entering the league as a third-round draft pick for the Falcons in 2016. He has caught 64 passes this season for 557 yards and four touchdowns.

Neither Hooper nor Julio Jones (foot) were practicing Wednesday; I'll have more on their progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
RBs: Tevin Coleman, Brian Hill, Jeremy Langford
WRs: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall, Russell Gage
TEs: Austin Hooper, Logan Paulsen, Eric Saubert

Baltimore Ravens

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

Head coach John Harbaugh was asked who would be his No. 1 quarterback after each of Lamar Jackson's first three starts.

That streak stopped following the Baltimore Ravens' 27-24 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Perhaps there is no longer any question about whether Jackson or Joe Flacco should be the Ravens' starting quarterback.

Jackson produced his first game with multiple touchdown passes and recorded a higher passer rating (100.5) than Chiefs starter Patrick Mahomes. He also remained a threat with his legs, leading Baltimore with 71 yards rushing.

If not for Mahomes' unreal 48-yard completion on fourth-and-9 with 89 seconds remaining, the talk would be about how Jackson threw a 10-yard touchdown on fourth down and a 9-yard score on third down in one of the biggest regular-season wins of the Harbaugh era.

"I thought he was very poised," Harbaugh said. "He made plays -- passing game, running game. He's just such a competitor. Yes, very impressive."

Flacco, who injured his right hip on Nov. 4, is expected to be available for Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He had his first full practice in a month on Friday, and he was cleared to suit up in a game later that day.

"He could play medically," Harbaugh said of Flacco being inactive for the fourth week in a row. "He just didn't have a chance to prepare enough."

Three weeks remain in the regular season and Flacco has more big-game experience than Jackson. Flacco is also the more proven downfield passer.

But as ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley argued, this is more about a winning formula of complementary football than one player, albeit the most important one on the field. It would be difficult for Harbaugh to take the job away from Jackson when he has been the key in a dominant rushing attack, which helps the NFL's top-ranked defense stay rested.

Hensley went on to point out Jackson has checked many of the boxes for a rookie first-round pick:

Could Jackson win in the NFL? He helped the Ravens to wins over the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders at home.

Could he win on the road? Jackson went to Atlanta and beat the Falcons by double digits.

Can Jackson beat a top team? He brought Baltimore back from a couple of deficits (7-0 and 17-10) on Sunday, coming within a fourth-down stop in the fourth quarter that would've sealed a victory over the AFC's top team.

"We're a strong team. We can fight with anybody," Jackson said. "I know a lot of people doubted us to lose this game anyways, but it wasn't how they thought it was going to be. We just got to get better next week and move on."

Complicating matters, Jackson hurt his left ankle on a scramble, which sidelined him for the final two plays. X-rays came back negative, and Hensley reports that Jackson didn't walk with a limp in the locker room.

This comes a week after Jackson sat out an eight-minute drive while being in concussion protocol in Atlanta. On Sunday, Jackson was so upset that he wouldn't be let back in the game that he threw his helmet to the ground on the sideline. How badly did Jackson want to play?

"Very bad," Jackson said. "We're down three points, overtime. We're trying to win the game. I wanted to get out there and help my team win the game. I just couldn't do it."

The biggest knocks on Jackson are his efficiency as a passer and his turnovers. At Arrowhead Stadium, Jackson completed 13 of 24 passes for 147 yards. While there were some poor throws (he threw a ball in the grass while trying to hit Ty Montgomery for a swing pass), Jackson didn't receive great help from his targets (Chris Moore would've had a 42-yard touchdown catch if he competed harder for it in the end zone).

Jackson also fumbled for the sixth time as a starter, although this was hardly all his fault. An unblocked Justin Houston stripped Jackson from behind with 38 seconds left in relegation, but the Chiefs failed to convert it into any points.

Overall, Jackson has helped the Ravens (7-6) win three of their past four games, putting them within a half-game of the Pittsburgh Steelers for first place in the AFC North and moving them in a four-team race into the AFC's No. 6 seed (Baltimore currently owns the tiebreakers).

"That offense is going to be a problem," Chiefs outside linebacker Dee Ford said. "[Jackson's] a great athlete, but he knows how to execute the offense. You really have to be on one page as a defense. If you aren't, they will gas you."

Turns out the Ravens agree. It also turns out the ankle isn't an issue.

On Wednesday, Harbaugh made what was already clear official: Jackson will start and the former starter Flacco will be the backup.

Changing of the guard in Baltimore.

Worth noting. ... The running game isn't nearly as productive with Flacco because defenses know he can't hurt them as much running, so they focus on the back. The play-calling also becomes more pass-heavy with Flacco, which led to problems during the losing streak.

Speaking of the running game, Zrebiec reports that Harbaugh said that he expects Kenneth Dixon's role to grow going forward. Dixon ran hard and well Sunday. It wasn't quite an even split, but Gus Edwards, Ty Montgomery and Dixon all played a similar amount of snaps. Expect more of the same going forward.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Lamar Jackson, Joe Flacco, Robert Griffin III
RBs: Gus Edwards, Kenneth Dixon, Javorius Allen, Ty Montgomery
WRs: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley, Janarion Grant
TEs: Hayden Hurst, Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams

Buffalo Bills

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Mike Rodak reported, Josh Allen, with abrasions on his torso and blood still glistening from beneath his left elbow, walked slowly across the Bills' locker room after Sunday's 27-23 loss to the New York Jets.

Allen had just run for 101 yards, becoming the NFL's first quarterback of the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to rush for at least 100 yards in consecutive games. The rookie's 335 rushing yards over the past three games, including 99 in a Nov. 25 win over the Jaguars and 135 in a Dec. 2 loss to the Miami Dolphins, topped Michael Vick's 294 yards over a three-game stretch in 2006 as the most in the Super Bowl era.

Allen's 101 rushing yards Sunday raised his total to 490 for the season, surpassing LeSean McCoy's 479 yards for the team lead.

Battered Sunday from carrying the ball nine times and taking 10 quarterback hits, the No. 7 overall pick had little interest in basking in his accomplishments.

"I want to win football games," he said. "I could care less."

Winning football games will take a more complete performance from Allen and those around him. In order for the Bills' first-round pick to become their bona fide franchise quarterback he will have to stay healthy and corral his capable, but sometimes reckless, arm.

Despite Allen's unprecedented success as a runner, the Bills have lost each of their past two games to fall to 4-9. There was optimism oozing from Allen's outing in a 21-17 defeat to Miami, but he was outplayed as a passer Sunday by No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold.

Allen entered Sunday with a 52.9 percent completion rate this season, lower than the 56 percent mark at Wyoming that called his accuracy into question prior to the draft. He completed only 50 percent of his passes (18-of-36) against the Jets, threw two interceptions and finished with a bleak 44.4 passer rating.

Allen owned the NFL's sixth-best Total QBR in his previous two games after returning in Week 12 from an elbow injury, but the carelessness with the football that plagued him early this season returned Sunday. Allen lost a fumble while attempting to scramble in the first quarter and was picked off in the second quarter when he launched a pass off his back foot while being chased toward the sideline.

"Heaving up a blind pass to maybe pick up 10 yards, rather than throwing the ball away, I can't do that," Allen said.

Allen's second interception came late in the fourth quarter when, with a little more than a minute remaining and no timeouts, Allen tried to force a pass into tight coverage on wide receiver Zay Jones.

"I pressed it and forced a bad ball, instead of going through my progressions," he said.

Jones did not help Allen's cause earlier in the fourth quarter when, without contact from a defender, he dropped a pass from Allen on second-and-20 from the Jets' 48-yard line. Jones, a second-round pick in 2017, was the most experienced of Allen's top three receivers entering the game. Undrafted rookie Robert Foster and 2017 fifth-round pick Isaiah McKenzie also started Sunday.

As Rodak stressed, reinforcements for Allen will not come until the offseason, when the Bills have 10 draft selections and more than $80 million in salary-cap space. Addressing wide receiver will be near the top of general manager Brandon Beane's priorities, but questions should be raised about the futures of McCoy and tight end Charles Clay in Buffalo.

Both players have been mainstays in the offense since 2015 but will each count $9 million against the salary cap next season. Clay will turn 30 in February and McCoy will turn 31 in July.

McCoy has three games left to turn around what has been the worst season of his career, and his availability could be in doubt. After rushing twice for 1 yard Sunday, McCoy left the game in the first quarter with a hamstring injury and did not return. He declined to speak to reporters in the locker room afterward.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported the McCoy is day-to-day following an MRI on Monday and head coach Sean McDermott confirmed that later in the day.

McDermott also called running back Chris Ivory day to day with a shoulder injury. Ivory left Sunday's game after playing 27 of 76 snaps.

The Bills will monitor the health of McCoy and Ivory this week before determining whether to add a running back to their 53-player roster.

McCoy has 145 carries for 479 yards and two touchdowns, while Ivory has 101 carries for 340 yards and a touchdown.

Cornerback Ryan Lewis and quarterback Derek Anderson are in concussion protocol. Kicker Steven Hauschka, who injured his lower back and pelvis after taking a hit on a blocked field, is day to day as is tight end Jason Croom (groin).

McCoy and Hauschka were not slated to practice at all Wednesday; I'll follow up on their status via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

Regardless of who is available at running back, the Bills' most potent running threat will likely remain Allen.

And that isn't ideal (unless you're a fantasy owner who has been streaming Allen the last few weeks).

"We've got to protect the quarterback and run the football with somebody other than our quarterback," McDermott said. "We've got to take a hard look at that. It's been an issue. I know that when the quarterback is your leading rusher, it's not a healthy thing, week in and week out."

The offensive line shares some blame for the inability of the Bills to establish a running game outside of Allen's scrambling, and for the hits Allen took as a passer. The rookie also pointed a finger at himself.

"I got to start limiting the hits I take on myself," he said. ...

Linebacker Matt Milano, who was carted off late in the fourth quarter, will undergo surgery for a broken fibula; he was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.

One last note. ... Hauschka's hip injury came after he was blasted to the Buffalo turf by Jets defensive end Henry Anderson following a blocked field-goal attempt.

McDermott wasn't impressed.

"It's a shame that Hauschka took the hit he did. There's no place in our game for plays like that," McDermott told reporters Monday after announcing the kicker's injury status.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh Allen, Matt Barkley, Derek Anderson
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Keith Ford, Chris Ivory, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Zay Jones, Robert Foster, Isaiah McKenzie, Victor Bolden, Brandon Reilly, Deonte Thompson, Ray-Ray McCloud
TEs: Charles Clay, Jason Croom, Logan Thomas

Carolina Panthers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

As the Associated Press framed it, "Cam Newton's unique fashion choices remain exciting.

"Everything else about the Carolina Panthers looks stale. ..."

Unable to come up with big plays down the stretch again, the reeling Panthers suffered their fifth straight loss, a 26-20 setback to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday that puts a major dent in Carolina's playoff hopes.

Afterward, Newton, stylish as usual in a hat and tailored gray, three-piece suit adorned with a yellow rose on his lapel, uncomfortably answered questions about Carolina's collapse.

"It's extremely frustrating to come up short each and every week with similar settings and not be able to push through," said Newton, who passed for 265 yards and a touchdown but had two bad throws late in the fourth quarter. "I wish I had the words to say, but I don't. In this league, that's what it always comes down to: finding ways to keep the game close.

"We just haven't found a way to win."

The Panthers (6-7) are plummeting. They have three games left, but two are against the New Orleans Saints (11-2), who clinched the NFC South with a 28-14 win over Tampa Bay.

Carolina was unable to put away the Browns (5-7-1), who scored nine points in the fourth quarter and overcame their own costly mistakes.

It's back to the drawing board for the Panthers and head coach Ron Rivera, who was already feeling the heat and is in real danger of losing his job. Rivera shook up his coaching staff last week, pulling defensive play-calling duties away from coordinator Eric Washington, firing defensive line coach Brady Hoke and assistant secondary/cornerbacks coach Jeff Imamura.

Those moves came after Rivera's meeting with owner David Tepper and general manager Marty Hurney, who may want to have another discussion with him.

The Browns completed a 66-yard pass on their first play, and gashed Carolina's defense for plays of 51, 51, 29, 28 and 15 yards. Even Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry got loose for a long run.

But the Panthers' biggest problem has been their inability to win close games. They've dropped their part four by a combined 17 points.

With the Panthers trailing 26-20, Newton, who has been bothered by a sore right shoulder for several weeks, dinked and dunked his way to Cleveland's 3-yard line with 3:25 left.

After a run by D.J. Moore was stopped for no gain, Newton underthrew Curtis Samuel in the right corner of the end zone on third down.

Then, on fourth down, Newton, facing some pressure up the middle, overthrew Jarius Wright in the back of the end zone on what would end up being Carolina's last real chance.

The Panthers got the ball back with 1:04 left, but Newton missed wide receiver Devin Funchess and was intercepted by Browns safety Damarious Randall.

Newton accepted responsibility for his mistakes, but said the Panthers as a whole aren't doing enough to win.

Carolina had earlier chances to score, but a false start led to a field goal instead of a touchdown and the Panthers had the ball for just 24 seconds in one series in the third before punting.

"Those opportunities slip through our grasp and find ways to come back and bite us," Newton said. "Early on in the second half, we had opportunities, favorable field position, and we just have to find ways to score points, touchdowns, preferably. Now everyone goes to shuffling, running around with their heads cut off and panicking at the end of the game.

"We should've done the hard work when we had opportunities. It's just a detriment to everyone. I'm going to do my part. I'm starting with myself. We all put ourselves in this situation. There's no one person to blame. We just have to keep moving forward."

Newton quickly dismissed a question about whether he would rest his sore shoulder.

Times are tough, but he's not quitting.

"We're in a position where we're done with the cliché sayings," he said. "It just comes down to us doing our job. That's pretty much what it is, in all three phases of football. Even though coach can get up and motivate us, we can get up, scream and holler, it just comes down to us doing our job."

All that said, expect Newton to be limited in practice again this week; and expect me to be following up on his progress daily via Late-Breaking Update. ...

A few final notes of interest. ... With his first completion, Newton eclipsed 3,000 yards passing for the eighth straight season. He came in needing 1 yard to reach the plateau and surpassed it on a 25-yarder to Samuel on Carolina's second snap.

Newton joined Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks in history to reach 3,000 yards in each of their first eight seasons.

Samuel played a career-high 93 percent of the snaps. He tallied 80 receiving yards on four catches and has averaged 84.0 receiving yards over the last two weeks.

Rookie tight end Ian Thomas played 82 percent of the snaps en route to a career-best day with nine catches for 77 yards.

Funchess played only 39 percent of the snaps, his fewest since the end of the 2016 season, while Torrey Smith played just two snaps.

Christian McCaffrey had two TD runs for Carolina and finished with 101 total yards. The scores were his 11th and 12th touchdowns of the season, both on the ground. He leads the league in touchdowns over the past six weeks.

But he wasn't as happy with the production as his fantasy owners were.

"It stinks," McCaffrey said. "A lot of people are against us right now, but I'll fight for every one of these guys. That's exactly what I'm going to do and I know a lot of guys will do as well. We lost. We've lost a few in a row. It's kind of us against the world right now."

New kicker Chandler Catanzaro made both of his field goals and both extra points. It remains to be seen if Catanzaro will be asked to kick again or if Graham Gano will be ready to return from the knee injury that sidelined him last week or not. More on that via Late-Breaking Update.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kyle Allen, Garrett Gilbert, Cam Newton
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Cameron Artis-Payne, Travaris Cadet
WRs: Devin Funchess, D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, Torrey Smith, Jarius Wright, Damiere Byrd
TEs: Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz

Chicago Bears

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson noted, the Bears' defense so thoroughly dominated the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night in their 15-6 win that quarterback Mitchell Trubisky's shaky three-interception performance barely registered.

Trubisky, 24, who missed two weeks because of an injury to his throwing shoulder, struggled with accuracy on several occasions Sunday night. He airmailed a pair of balls that the Rams intercepted, and he also underthrew a pass intended for Taylor Gabriel that Los Angeles picked off right before halftime. He finished the game 16-of-30 for 110 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and a quarterback rating of 33.3 -- the lowest single-game passer rating of Trubisky's career.

"When you look at it numbers-wise, I think there were some throws -- some of the interceptions sailed on him a little bit," head coach Matt Nagy said. "It wasn't his best game. You know what I told him, I said, 'who cares.' I mean, we're about winning games.

"He knows that we can all play better. It's not all on him. So he's going to get better from it."

Trubisky insisted that his right shoulder did not bother him Sunday night.

"It sucked being out for two weeks," Trubisky said. "But, I mean, the shoulder really wasn't bothering me at all, not my mindset or anything like that.

"Yeah, I'm pretty disappointed in myself, that way I played … but it's hard to be down when you get such a big win like that. You have to put your own selfish thoughts about how you played aside."

Prior to Week 13, Trubisky's had an overall passer rating of 97.7 in 2018.

"I mean, I'll get everything corrected," Trubisky said.

The Bears can take solace in the fact that despite Trubisky's issues in the passing game, Jordan Howard rushed for a season-high 101 yards on 19 carries. And as rough as Trubisky played in the passing game, he made some good plays with his legs and, overall, the Bears' rushing game kept the usually high-powered Rams offense on the sideline. As a result, Howard and Co. kept the ball for 13 minutes longer than the Rams.

"They were playing really soft defense, taking away some of our downfield throws," Trubisky said. "We spread them out a little bit. I think the offensive line did a great job opening up holes for Jordan.

"He made up his mind tonight that when he touched the ball, he was going to run hard and finish runs and pick up tough yards for this offense. I'm very proud of him and the offensive line and how they were able to be a big part of this win tonight."

Nagy played a role as well.

As Profootballtalk.com's Darin Gantt put it, "Nagy made a list. He checked it twice. So when they got to the goal line and needed a play, he reached deep into his bag.

"The touchdown pass to offensive lineman Bradley Sowell was named 'Santa's Sleigh,' and was the gift they needed at the right time. ..."

Via Cam Ellis of NBCSports Chicago, the defensive staff gave the play its seasonal name last week, since it featured four defensive linemen on the field as well as the six offensive linemen out there with Trubisky (making him look like an elf).

Trubisky faked the handoff to defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (who ran "Freezer Left" last week), and Hicks sold it well enough while Sowell was peeling off into the flat at the goal line.

"We needed a play, so they gave it to the playmaker," Sowell said. "It was one of those things that I'm glad Nagy trusts me to do. He tried it with me earlier in the season and got flack for it but gave it back to me and it worked out great."

Sowell scored during his freshman year at Ole Miss, but that was a decade ago, so he had to lobby a bit for his chance. But Nagy praised his hands and his ability to make the textbook catch.

"It's cool having a coach that's willing to do that," defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris said. "It shows how fun he is. Not a lot of coaches do stuff like that, so it's fun to be around a coach that wants to do stuff like that, having defensive players get in on the plays. You know, have fun. We're not here to be robots, we're here to have fun. It's a job, but we're having fun with it right now."

Fun plays like that and others Nagy has called this season give the opposing defense a look they most likely haven't prepared for. "As a defensive coordinator or as a quality control coach, when you're up in the booth and you're trying to tell the d-coordinator that those four numbers are coming in, I don't know if they necessarily prepare for that," Nagy said. "You've got to be able to make sure it's something that you feel can be worthwhile and not foolish. There's that balance there.

"The other part of it, too, is our guys love it. They enjoy it. They have fun. [The plays are] working. Maybe we'll stay away from them for a few weeks and come back to it later."

Having that kind of fun with goal line plays has become part of the Bears' formula, and the reason they have to be considered a dangerous playoff team, along with a defense that does the conventional stuff so well.

Next in line to get a dose of Chicago defense: The Green Bay Packers visit this weekend for a divisional battle. ...

Also of interest. ... As noted above, Howard picked up the slack on offense with his big rushing night. In addition, Tarik Cohen added 69 yards on nine attempts, including a 32-yard burst that set up a first-quarter field goal and a 23-yard dash that led to the offense's only TD.

And finally. ... According to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, cornerback Bryce Callahan broke the fifth metatarsal in his left foot during Sunday's win over the Rams.

He's the Bears' nickel corner, practically a starter, and had been playing well at the time of the injury.

Callahan was placed on season-ending IR Wednesday and the Bears signed former Jets CB Marcus Williams.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray
RBs: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham
WRs: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Kevin White, Josh Bellamy, Javon Wims
TEs: Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, Daniel Brown

Cincinnati Bengals

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

The Bengals (5-8) secured their third straight non-winning season after a 26-21 loss to the Chargers despite showing an attitude that hasn't been seen in weeks.

As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell noted, they gave running back Joe Mixon the ball early and often after taking criticism for underusing him lately, and he responded with 26 carries for 111 yards and five receptions for 27 yards.

They aggressively went for it on fourth down and on two-point tries (albeit unsuccessfully).

They gave some of their young players, such as Christian Westerman and Malik Jefferson, a shot. Their defense, which has been their Achilles heel this season, played in a manner that hasn't been seen since the beginning of the season. After allowing 155 yards in the first quarter and looking headed for yet another blowout, the defense allowed only 288 yards for the game, something that seemed impossible for the struggling unit.

Of course, as Terrell went on to suggest, none of it means anything.

Jeff Driskel certainly wasn't ready to pat himself or the Bengals offense on the back. Not after a loss.

"Yeah, there's no moral victories in this league," Driskel said later at a press conference. "But we've just got to do everything we can, fight, scratch and claw, to get a win. We've got three more games to go."

Still, as Cincinnati Enquirer staffer Fletcher Page reported, the Bengals offense, without injured mainstays Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, flashed moments of success, based around a prolific dose of Mixon, a more confident look for Driskel in his second career start and an overall aggressive, though perhaps bordering on reckless, mode throughout the afternoon.

Overall, it was a step forward for a unit crippled by attrition on a team mired in a five-game losing streak.

"Of course we're not happy with the outcome, but we feel good about how far we've come," said wideout John Ross, who caught his fourth touchdown in the past five games. "It's obvious that we've been through a lot of adversity, with a lot of different games, a lot of different outcomes. But I think we showed up a little bit and made better plays."

It started and centered around Mixon.

All week, Bengals players and coaches fielded questions about Mixon's recent productivity despite a lack of carries. Over the past four games before the West Coast trip, Mixon averaged more than five yards per carry but got just 12 rushes per game.

That changed Sunday. He touched the ball on six of the Bengals eight plays. And the commitment to get him the ball stuck throughout. He finished with 31 total touches and 26 carries - both career highs - for 131 total yards and a rushing touchdown.

"You always try to get your best players the ball," Driskel said. "I thought Joe did a nice job hitting the holes. There were some times when there wasn't much there and he created. I thought he ran hard, I thought he really battled. That was big for us, to be able to run the ball effectively."

For his part, Driskel looked much more comfortable than last week despite making his first career road game start. He finished 18-for-27 (the 66.7 completion percentage was higher than Chargers' quarterback Philip Rivers at 65.5 percent) for 170 yards and a touchdown.

"The guy can play," Ross said. "He can throw the ball. The guy can spin it. It's good to have somebody like that to fill the void. We're going to continue to fight behind him."

Added Bengals wideout Tyler Boyd: "I think Jeff is playing his best. He got banged up and continued to go out and show us that he's going to come to play for us and have our backs. And we're going to do the same for him. Whatever the outcome is we're going to ride together."

Driskel, who said his injuries weren't serious, added 12 yards rushing, including a scramble for a first down and another that was initially ruled a touchdown but was overturned due to a rule change regarding players diving head first enacted before this season.

The most important thing, according to Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, was that Driskel didn't throw an interception, like he did last week against the Broncos, or fumble.

"That's the thing: We're constantly talking about going to the next down, continue to play within yourself, we'll rate his progressions as we go," Lewis said. "There were some that were a little quick and he had opportunities. ... But again, he's doing everything he can. This is great for him and his career. This is career changing for him to keep playing the way he's playing."

Lewis, in an about-face from his usual conservative ways, made numerous aggressive calls involving his offense. One could argue against attempting a two-point conversion in the first half or going for it on fourth-and-inches from their own 35 in the third quarter.

The results say Lewis made the wrong calls. Lewis himself said his decisions didn't work. The Bengals failed to convert on both occasions.

But each player in the locker room nodded in agreement with the aggressive mentality. That appeared to mean something to an offense missing key playmakers but still pushing forward in search of a winning outcome.

"When you have your head coach's confidence like that, it's encouraging," Driskel said.

"It was aggressive. We've got to play aggressive to win the ball game. I feel like we did. We have full confidence that we were going to convert. So was everybody out there on offense. We thought we were going to convert and unfortunately we didn't."

Still, when the Bengals needed a play the most, they balked.

The Bengals had a chance to make it a four-point game midway through the second quarter after Driskel scrambled and dove for a touchdown on third-and-goal from the Chargers' 1-yard line. Officials reversed the call and ruled him down inside the 1, citing a new point of emphasis regarding players who dive head first.

A player who dives head first will now be judged to have given himself up, and the ball will be spotted where he first touched the ground. Previously, the ball was spotted where forward progress stopped. Officials ruled Driskel short of the goal line after viewing the replay.

"I was not giving myself up," Driskel said. "That is within the rule book and how it is interpreted. It is what it is. I wasn't giving myself up. I have to figure out another way to get myself in there."

The Bengals might have recovered from that if they had been successful on the next play, a fourth-and-goal inside the 1. But guard Alex Redmond false started, and the Bengals kicked a field goal.

"That's some rookie s---, I can't be letting that happen. It is frustrating," Redmond told reporters.

Unfortunately for the Bengals, these are the kind of things that keep happening to them lately.

In the end, the Bengals have yet to fire on all cylinders for an entire game this season, and it doesn't seem like it will happen. They gave up points to end the first half for the 11th time in 13 games, and what seems like small mistakes have loomed large.

The Bengals being their own worst enemy is as much the story of the season as injuries and is something that involves everyone, from the coaching staff to the players. When the season is finally over, the Bengals will wonder if they were capable of more than they showed the second half of the year. ...

Worth noting. ... Ross has taken a fair share of criticism for not making the impact expected of the No. 9 overall pick, but quietly this season he's carved out a nice role as a red zone weapon. He caught his fourth touchdown pass in the last five games on Sunday breaking free over the middle in his homecoming to Southern California. He had a large crowd of friends and family in attendance.

There are many aspects of this game that need to round out, but that's one significant silver lining in his development.

"It's one of the best feelings I've had," Ross said of the TD. "Definitely the most fun I've had playing in a stadium since I've been in college or the NFL. Nothing can beat playing in front of your family and your friends and your son."

Wide receiver Josh Malone (hamstring) was questionable but unable to go. He's now missed five games with his injury.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jeff Driskel, Tom Savage
RBs: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Mark Walton
WRs: John Ross, Cody Core, Josh Malone, Tyler Boyd
TEs: C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Kroft, Tyler Eifert, Mason Schreck

Cleveland Browns

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

As the Associated Press reported, Baker Mayfield took the snap in victory formation and dropped to one knee. The cocky rookie quarterback urged the crowd to make more noise, and when the clock hit zeroes, the stadium's sound system blasted "Danger Zone."

AP sports writer Tom Withers added, "The Browns have become hazardous to your playoff health."

Mayfield outplayed Cam Newton, Jarvis Landry caught a touchdown pass and ran for another score and the Cleveland Browns damaged Carolina's postseason hopes with a 26-20 win Sunday over the Panthers, who dropped their fifth straight.

Mayfield bravely threw a 51-yard TD pass into traffic to Landry, who had a 3-yard scoring run and added a long run - on a similar call - early in the fourth quarter to set up a go-ahead touchdown.

Playing the spoiler role down the stretch, the Browns (5-7-1) kept their faint playoff hopes alive while improving to 3-2 under interim coach Gregg Williams, who needed just five games to match former Browns coach Hue Jackson's win total over two-plus seasons.

"Everybody loves winning," said defensive end Myles Garrett. "It's different for us because of the negatives we've been through, but that's all in the past."

Mayfield was asked if he woke up feeling as dangerous as he did three weeks ago before beating Atlanta.

"I think you know the answer to that one," he said, drawing laughter.

As ESPN.com's Pat McManamon noted, Mayfield threw for 238 yards and a touchdown while Nick Chubb provided the go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter to lead the Browns to victory.

Mayfield has a touchdown pass in 10 consecutive starts, making him the first Browns quarterback to do that since Bernie Kosar in 1987, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

With his 4-yard touchdown run, Chubb now has a TD in five consecutive games, the longest streak by a Browns player since Greg Pruitt in 1975 (also per ESPN Stats and Information).

Mayfield completed 18-of-22 against the Panthers -- and three of his passes fell incomplete after bouncing off receivers' hands. In his past six quarters -- including the second half at Houston last Sunday -- Mayfield has thrown for 589 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.

Offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens had one interesting play ready for the Panthers that saw the flow of the offense go left and have Mayfield hand off inside to Landry. The first time Kitchens called it, Landry scored from the 3. The second time he called it, Landry scampered for 51 yards, setting up Chubb's go-ahead score.

Landry even threw an incomplete pass after taking a swing pass-lateral from Mayfield.

"I'm sure he will be begging to kick it now," Williams said.

Five wins are a modest total, but for the Browns they're a benchmark of sorts. Cleveland has not won five games in a season since 2014.

Mayfield is now 4-6 as the starting quarterback, giving him as many wins as the Browns had in total in 2015, '16 and '17. He started with a 66-yard completion on the Browns' first play, then threw a 51-yard laser of a touchdown pass to Landry, who became the first Browns player since Leroy Hoard in 1991 to have a 50-yard catch and a 50-yard run in the same game.

"I guess waking up feeling dangerous is contagious, you know?" Landry said.

The Browns improved to 4-2-1 at home this season, guaranteeing them a winning record at FirstEnergy Stadium. No matter what happens in the home finale Dec. 23 against the Bengals, the Browns will finish with second-best home record since 1999 and their best since they went 7-1 in 2007. ...

Worth noting. ... Saturday's game in Denver will pit Mayfield against one of the best pass defenses in the NFL. But the Broncos, like the Browns, are also thin at cornerback.

The Browns have struggled against the league's better defenses. ...

Other notes of interest. ... As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, Chubb doubled his previous career high with six targets in Week 14. Chubb has now seen at least three targets in four consecutive games after totaling seven during his first nine games. Coupled with an average of 18.3 carries per game since Week 7, this increase in receiving work for Chubb solidifies him as one of the league's few workhorse running backs. ...

One the injury front. ... Williams hopes Denzel Ward (concussion) will play this week, but he was not on the practice field Tuesday.

Williams said that Wednesday would be a big day in terms of determining Ward's availability.

"If he can't practice, it will be tough," Williams said, via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com.

Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (back) and center JC Tretter (ankle) were also out of practice.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Baker Mayfield, Tyrod Taylor, Drew Stanton
RBs: Nick Chubb, Duke Johnson
WRs: Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins, Breshad Perriman, Damion Ratley, Derrick Willies
TEs: David Njoku, Darren Fells, Randall Telfer, Seth DeValve

Dallas Cowboys

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Todd Archer suggested, defining where Dak Prescott is in the NFL quarterback hierarchy is a difficult task.

Fantasy owners would agree with that, but the Cowboys would rather the signal caller be defined by what he does when it matters most.

Prescott threw touchdown passes of 28 and 75 yards to Amari Cooper in the fourth quarter Sunday and another for 15 yards in overtime to give the Cowboys a 29-23 victory that put their chances at winning the NFC East at 99 percent, according to ESPN Football Power Index.

This game will not be remembered as one of Prescott's best, even though he threw for a career-high 455 yards on 42-of-54 passing.

But, it might be one of his finer moments.

"You talk about mental toughness, that guy we've got playing quarterback for us, he's a tough son of a b---- now," head coach Jason Garrett said. "You saw that today. You saw the physical toughness. You saw the mental toughness and you saw him throughout the game overcome adversity and make the critical plays at the critical moments."

Just as he did his rookie season when he beat the Eagles in overtime on a touchdown pass to Jason Witten at ATandT Stadium, Prescott maneuvered the Cowboys down the field and faced third-and-7 from the Eagles 15, knowing he would be blitzed.

"We knew they were going all out," Prescott said. "We knew they were bringing everybody. I made the protection call. The offensive line did a great job. I think a couple of guys made Superman blocks, blocking two guys at once. I just knew I had to get the ball out."

The blitz came and Prescott rifled a throw to Cooper that was popped in the air with Rasul Douglas in coverage. Cooper came down with the pass, danced into the end zone and led the Cowboys to their fifth straight win.

In 2016 against the Eagles, Prescott completed all five of his passes for 56 yards before finding Witten. On Sunday, he completed all five of his overtime throws for 58 yards in the win.

As Archer noted, however, the Eagles were only in the game because of Prescott's mistakes and the Cowboys' woeful execution in the red zone, a season-long problem.

In the second quarter, his string of passes without an interception ended at 165 when he tried to hit Cooper for a touchdown. In the third quarter, he overthrew a wide-open Michael Gallup on pass that was intercepted and set up the Eagles' first touchdown drive.

The Eagles tied the game in the fourth quarter after Prescott lost his sixth fumble of the season on a Michael Bennett sack.

"I've got to stop fumbling in the pocket, point blank, period," Prescott said. "That's the one that's going to bother me."

But in the fourth quarter and overtime, Prescott was magic, except for missing Gallup for what could have been a touchdown. He completed 17 of 20 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns. He and Cooper were unstoppable, combining seven times for 163 yards and touchdowns of 28, 75 and 15 yards.

"I'm never going to give up. I'm never going to stop," Prescott said. "When you have teammates and coaches that support you and push you and believe in you, then no matter what goes on, no matter the interceptions and no matter the fumbles, they always got your back. It just allows me to keep my eyes forward and focus on my goal."

When the Cowboys got the ball to start of overtime, Prescott said he thought of the overtime game his rookie year.

"Some things just kind of happen that way," he said "and I said, 'I guess we just have to go finish it off the right way.'"

Somehow, he found a way. Somehow the Cowboys have gone from 3-5 to 8-5 and in control of winning the NFC East for the second time in Prescott's three seasons.

"Man, he's a warrior," Ezekiel Elliott said. "I don't think there's any other way to describe him. Just the way he bounced back from all the adversity he had in the game, three turnovers, and the fact that he still sat in the pocket and very confident and very confident in the receivers and made those big plays when we needed them."

Meanwhile, as Profootballtalk.com's Charean Williams noted, whatever the Raiders thought of Cooper, the receiver has proved them wrong.

Or more correctly, as Cooper likes to say, he's proved the Cowboys right.

Cooper looks every bit worth the first-round draft pick the Cowboys gave up for him in an October trade with the Raiders.

"He is such a complete player for us," owner Jerry Jones said. "When you see him not make much, not have many plays, not have many targets early and then turn around and change the game like that, then you realize what kind of impact that he can have. So I'm proud for everybody out there. The first think I saw Dak smiling, 'Boy, we like that [Cooper], buddy!' So it's a good feeling."

Cooper caught 10 passes for 217 yards and the above-mentioned three touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime -- a performance that earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

"I feel like that's who I am," Cooper said. "I feel like I can make those plays to help my team win. You know I did it in college a lot. In Oakland, I did it sometimes. But my whole goal is just to be more consistent and to be able to provide that type of play for my team every week."

Cooper made 22 catches for 280 yards and a touchdown in six games for the Raiders this season. He has 40 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns in six games for the Cowboys.

In the past three games, Cooper has 26 catches for 473 yards and five touchdowns.

"When I thought of playing in the NFL as a youth, this is the perfect example of that," Cooper said. "For everything from the city, the facilities, winning, watching that defense out there, watching that offense out there, it's a dream come true."

Cooper heard all the talk that the Cowboys overpaid for him. He heard the whispers from Oakland that he wasn't worth the price.

"Of course," Cooper said. "I mean, with social media, you hear everything. But I know what I'm worth, and I know I can play football. So it didn't really bother me."

Other notes of interest. .. For the first time all season, an offensive player was penalized for the helmet rule. Officials threw a flag on Elliott for lowering his head to initiate contact.

"We're just making some calls here that are tough, but we're doing it for protection and safety, "Jones said. "That's the biggest question being asked: How do you play?

"I don't won't Zeke to stop punishing them on the end of his runs. Upon further review, they both tucked their heads. Zeke is a punishing runner. That's what we want in the NFL. That is a physical aspect of football that we want to give our fans. I'll certainly do everything I can to not make those kinds of things penalties."

Elliott hit Eagles safety Corey Graham at the end of a 14-yard pass. Elliott appeared to get the worst of it, going into the blue medical tent and missing five plays.

Elliott said he briefly lost feeling in his arm.

"I mean when you're on that sideline, I've got to protect myself," Elliott said. "And if a guy's going low, I've got to go low, too. The rule is meant for the betterment of the game. The rule is for our safety, and if there was illegal helmet-to-helmet contact on there, that's something I need to go look at and work on. That's not OK. It's just a tough play."

The NFL largely forgot about the "lowering the helmet" rule that raised such a ruckus in the preseason. Through the first 13 weeks of the season, officials had thrown 10 flags for use of helmet, according to Kevin Seifert of ESPN. All were on defensive players.

But the NFL's senior vice president of officiating, Al Riveron, has called out offensive players on his weekly videos. He has used a play from Raiders running back Doug Martin and Patriots running back Sony Michel as examples of illegal hits under the use-of-the-helmet rule.

Neither Martin nor Michel was fined. The NFL did fine former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt $26,739 for unnecessary roughness after he lowered his head to run through Broncos safety Justin Simmons earlier this season.

Referee Clete Blakeman, whose crew called the penalty on Elliott on Sunday, said Elliott "initiated the contact against the defender with the helmet as it's defined in the rule book."

"It's hard. It's a hard game, and what we do is hard," Blakeman said in a pool report. "But we feel good about that call. A couple of us, actually two of us, had it as the same foul from different angles. ..."

On the injury front. ... Sean Lee will return to practice on a limited basis this week, Garrett told reporters Monday. Receiver Tavon Austin also is expected back.

Lee has missed eight games this season with hamstring injuries. The Cowboys have not missed him.

Austin has not played since injuring his groin in Week 6.

Despite Elliott briefly losing feeling in his arm, Garrett said Elliott had a stinger. Elliott, though, had no lingering effects Monday. Still, he wasn't on ther practice field to open the week Wednesday.

Garrett also reiterated right guard Zack Martin is day to day with the same MCL injury he has played through for weeks. Martin played 65 of 99 plays Sunday before leaving. ...

More on Elliott's progress via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

And finally. ... When ESPN reported that their current employee Witten was being recruited to leave the booth and return to football, the report specified that Garrett had made multiple attempts to do so.

The coach said in multiple ways Monday that the story was not based in fact.

"There is no truth to that story," Garrett said, via Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News.

Jones also took time out to dispute the story, making it a fairly concerted effort to downplay the report.

Both Jones and Garrett have substantial reason to, as the team has finally figured out how to move the ball without the veteran tight end, and they're well on their way to the playoffs after trading for Cooper.

That said, ESPN should know that Witten is on the Cowboys' reserve/retired list. Players on the reserve/retired list can't be reinstated after Week 13, according to the NFL. ESPN posted the story after Week 13.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith
WRs: Amari Cooper, Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup, Noah Brown, Tavon Austin
TEs: Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, Rico Gathers, Geoff Swaim

Denver Broncos

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

As DenverBroncos.com's Aric DiLalla noted, the Broncos no longer have any margin for error.

The 20-14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday did more than break the Broncos' three-game win streak. It guaranteed the Broncos must be perfect the rest of the season to have a chance at the playoffs.

For weeks, head coach Vance Joseph has spoken about having a small-picture focus with big-picture awareness.

But after Sunday's loss, Joseph said he spoke with his team for the first time about the situation in which they find themselves.

"Our record right now, we're still in it," Joseph said. "Every game now is a must-win. We haven't talked about that, but we have to now. Every game that we play from now on is a must-win."

The Broncos will also need help.

Count the Colts, Titans, Dolphins, Ravens and Steelers among the teams that must lose - some more than once - for Denver to make it back to the postseason.

Quarterback Case Keenum, who led two second-half scoring drives after being shut out in the first, realizes where the Broncos now stand. That doesn't mean he thinks Denver, which has won three of its last four games, needs to change much of anything.

"Keep doing what we're doing," Keenum said when asked how the team moves forward. "We don't have to change anything ourselves as far as our mindset goes. We stay together, we continue to come to work every day and try to do our best.

"Some things are probably out of our hands as far as we might need to count [on] other [teams]. ... Or certain things. Those are things we can't worry about. We just have to do what we do, control what we can control, try to go 1-0. What a great opportunity this week, [a] Saturday night game. A team that has made some strides and is playing well. We've got our work cut out for us again."

Von Miller didn't seem to see much reason to change his approach now, either.

While he shouldered the blame for the loss Sunday after three offsides penalties helped keep San Francisco drives alive, he maintained that a "must-win" mindset is nothing new.

"Every game has been [trying to] win out, in my opinion," Miller said. "This is the type of space I'm used to playing in, especially this season. It's nothing new for our team."

As ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold reminded readers, the loss was not without reason.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders ruptured his left Achilles tendon this week, making him the sixth starter on offense to go on injured reserve this season. The Broncos often lined up three receivers who were rookies this year or spent their rookie year in 2017 on the Broncos' practice squad.

They have three reserves on the offensive line, essentially playing four tackles in the lineup with their former starting guard, Connor McGovern, at center. In the end, Sanders' injury, coupled with Harris' injury, over the course of a 72-hour span this past week, proved to be the last straws.

The Broncos had shown the ability to overcome plenty here and there, but Sunday they just looked tired, really tired, and couldn't overcome themselves.

It puts Joseph back under the microscope.

Because while the Broncos were still out there swinging for Joseph on Sunday, they still went down, and went down hard.

"We're in the NFL, we get paid to do this, the next man up has to step up, and we didn't step up," said running back Phillip Lindsay, who finished with 30 yards rushing. "We didn't execute the plays that were called, and that's on us."

Good penetration from San Francisco's defensive line frequently forced Lindsay and Royce Freeman to face a horde of defenders immediately upon taking handoffs from Keenum, and the Broncos' vital ground game struggled to gain traction as a result.

Denver finished the game with a 3.8-yards-per-carry average that was its lowest since Week 9, and Lindsay and Freeman combined for 66 yards on 20 attempts -- with 23 of the yards coming on a single fourth-quarter Freeman gallop off right tackle that was the Broncos' only gain of more than 20 yards all day.

Whatever the case, as the Broncos prepare for a Browns team that has also won three of its last four, they cannot let Sunday's loss compound into another.

Joseph isn't concerned with that possibility.

"It won't be tough [to re-focus]," Joseph said. "Our guys are resilient. We've been that way all year. We'll reset them, and we'll go play good football on Saturday."

And if there's any pent-up frustration that lingers Saturday night when they host the Cleveland Browns after falling short in a game they needed to keep pace in the playoff race, Miller said he and his teammates will only direct it toward their opponent.

"We're 6-7," Miller said. "That's nothing that any of us could predict, but I think getting mad and pissed, you've got to direct that toward something. If we want to get mad and pissed at somebody, we should get mad and pissed at the Cleveland Browns. Pointing fingers in the locker room, it's not going to help us."

The only thing that can help the Broncos is three more wins and a little help. ...

Receiver Courtland Sutton (thigh) was held out of Tuesday's practice. Sutton came up short in terms of workload last Sunday in Sanders' first game out. Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton were much busier than their higher profile teammate. ...

For the record, Joseph said that the plan is for Sutton to work on Wednesday and Thursday.

"That's the plan: to get him out tomorrow a little bit," Joseph said, via the team's website. "We'll see how much he can do tomorrow, but the goal is to get him ready for Saturday. That's the ultimate goal."

I'll be watching for more on Sutton, who did make it onto the field in some capacity Wednesday, in advance of Saturday's kickoff; check the Late-Breaking Updates section as the week progresses. ...

Also on the injury front. ... Defensive end Derek Wolfe remains in concussion protocol and the Broncos can't keep their cornerbacks healthy. As Profootballtalk.com's Charean Williams reported Monday, rookie cornerback Isaac Yiadom is the latest, having separated his right shoulder in the loss to the 49ers. He played 57 of 72 snaps, briefly returning to try to play with a harness.

While Joseph called Yiadom "day to day," he conceded it "would be tough" for Yiadom to play Saturday night against the Browns.

Chris Harris Jr. also isn't ready to return yet, though a scan Monday showed the veteran cornerback's fractured fibula is healing.

"It's a broken leg," Joseph said, via Jeff Legwold of ESPN. "It's a healing process; it's more about that than his rehab. It just takes time. He a scan [Monday] morning, and it's healing, but there is still a small break in his leg. The soreness is going away, but it just takes time."

The Broncos, though, could see the return of cornerback Tramaine Brock. They expect Brock to play Saturday after he sat out two games with a rib injury.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Case Keenum, Paxton Lynch, Kevin Hogan
RBs: Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker, Phillip Lindsay
WRs: Courtland Sutton, Daesean Hamilton, Tim Patrick, Andre Holmes, Jordan Taylor, Jordan Leslie, Carlos Henderson
TEs: Matt LaCosse

Detroit Lions

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

In the battle of two banged-up, struggling offenses, the Lions were able to ride a Darius Slay pick-six to the team's first victory in Arizona in a quarter-century, besting the Cardinals on Sunday, 17-3.

Late in the third quarter, after making just their second trip in Lions territory on the day, Slay stepped in front of a pass from one rookie to another, snatching away Josh Rosen's throw intended for wide receiver Trent Sherfield, returning it 67 yards down the left sideline to give the Lions a 10-0 lead with 3:03 remaining.

"I baited (the throw)," Slay said. "I knew it was coming. I knew it before the play even happened. The only thing I was concerned about was if I was going to score with it.

"It felt freaking awesome. I loved it. I work hard. I appreciate the Lord blessing me with speed to get to that end zone."

Heck, it was great to see anybody find paydirt in this one.

As we saw later, the Lions (5-8) would seal the victory with a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, capped by a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Zach Zenner with 4:05 remaining, overcoming a brutal day of injuries for the Lions.

"Coach mentioned that I might be getting a series," Zenner said. "I had the opportunity and the offensive line did a great job. ... The holes started to open up late, I just happened to be back there."

Those two touchdowns came after a snoozer of a first half, where Matt Prater's 47-yard field goal representing the only points.

The Lions received the opening kickoff and put together a promising drive, working across midfield before running back LeGarrette Blount coughed up a fumble. But the Cardinals (3-10) couldn't do much with the turnover, going three-and-out, punting for the first of four times in the half.

The Lions weren't able to do much more, also punting four times around Prater's field goal.

The second half remained a defensive struggle, until Slay's interception. It was his third of the season, and first of his career he returned for a touchdown.

"It was a good play by him," head coach Matt Patricia said. "I think he did a really good job coming out of the break. Obviously, Slay's a great player. ... It was a hard catch for him and great job for him staying in bounds."

And yes, the fact that I'm focusing as much on Slay's score as I am the offense is telling.

Oh, and Zenner.

After receiving just one carry through three quarters, Zenner opened the series with three straight for 25 yards. After a 25-yard pass interference call on a throw to Kenny Golladay, the Lions gave the ball to Zenner four more times, ending with the 1-yard score.

"He did a great job," Patricia said. "Give him a lot of credit for being ready to go, and give the offensive line credit, too, for going out there and just executing when they really had to in that situation."

The Lions overcame a number of injuries in the contest. The team lost rookie defensive tackle Da'Shawn Hand and defensive end Ziggy Ansah in the span of two plays at the end of the first quarter and right tackle Rick Wagner to a concussion before the half. Wide receiver Bruce Ellington and safety Charles Washington were both officially ruled out mid-game with hamstring injuries, while fullback Nick Bellore, safety Tavon Wilson and cornerback Marcus Cooper left the game and didn't return.

"It's tough," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "I know everybody's fighting tooth and nail to get out there and help us win and I was happy to see that."

Stafford finished 15-for-23 for 101 yards, his fewest in a game he didn't exit with an injury. Zenner paced the Lions with 54 yards on 12 carries. In total, Detroit's three running backs - Zenner, Blount and Theo Riddick - combined for 163 yards of Detroit's 218 from scrimmage.

The best part about Stafford's performance is he didn't turn the ball over, which played a critical role in grinding out the close victory. But that's not exactly a fantasy-friendly outing.

For the second straight week, Levine Toilolo led the charge. But instead of the 90 yards he racked up a week ago, he finished with two grabs for 26. Ellington led the receivers with four receptions for 17 yards, before exiting with a hamstring injury. The group couldn't get anything going, in terms of separation.

Ellington was not on the practice field Wednesday; I'll have on his status and that of Kerryon Johnson, who has missed the last three games with a knee sprain, via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

As Detroit News staffer Justin Rogers noted, he's empathetic with coordinator Jim Bob Cooter's plight at this point in the year, but still, you would expect a few more route concepts capable of generating separation from his patchwork personnel. The offense was stagnant for nearly the entire game, until Zenner got going during the closing stretch.

One last note here. ... Ansah's season is over. His tenure with the Lions may be over as well.

The Lions put Ansah on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday. He becomes a free agent in March, and there's a good chance he'll move on after spending his first six seasons with the Lions, who chose him with the first overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. This year Ansah made $17.143 million by playing on the franchise tender for defensive ends. Given that his injury-plagued season saw him appear in just seven games while nursing multiple shoulder injuries and record just four sacks, he won't get that kind of money in 2019.

He definitely won't get it from the Lions.

Also placed on injured reserve was tight end Michael Roberts, a 24-year-old who has nine catches for 100 yards and three touchdowns this season. Like Ansah, Roberts had a shoulder injury.

The Lions promoted tight end Jerome Cunningham and center Leo Koloamatangi from their practice squad.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Matt Cassel
RBs: LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner
WRs: Kenny Golladay, Bruce Ellington, TJ Jones, Brandon Powell
TEs: Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo

Green Bay Packers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky framed it, "Joe Philbin for coach.

"As long as someone helps him keep the red challenge flag in his pocket, that is. ..."

Of course, as an unnamed player agent predicted when asked by Demovsky how the team might respond after Mike McCarthy was fired, the Green Bay Packers players would "play their ass off (because) they want to show everyone, 'Hey, we weren't the problem.'"

Either way, there weren't many problems in Game 1 of the Philbin interim head-coaching era after Philbin's almost unheard-of decision to unsuccessfully challenge two plays -- both catches by Julio Jones that were upheld by replay -- on the Falcons' opening series. With merely 1:27 of elapsed game time, Philbin was out of challenges for the day.

Luckily for him, the Packers didn't need another one and cruised to a convincing 34-20 victory to improve to 5-7-1, keeping alive their chances at a avoiding a second straight losing season. As of the game's end, they still weren't eliminated from playoff contention -- although their chances are slim.

All they needed was Aaron Rodgers to play like, well, Aaron Rodgers again.

In particular, Rodgers went 5-of-6 passing for 70 yards and a TD on third downs and he also scrambled twice for 23 yards and a pair of first downs. In his previous six games, Rodgers completed 44 percent of his third-down passes with one TD and two rushing first downs, per ESPN Stats and Information.

And it didn't hurt that Davante Adams made his usual impact (seven catches for 81 yards and a touchdown), Randall Cobb caught his first touchdown pass since Week 1 and Aaron Jones (with a 29-yard third-quarter touchdown run) got the ball in the second half for a change.

And then there was the defensive touchdown that came courtesy of cornerback Bashaud Breeland's pick-6 -- a 22-yarder of Matt Ryan in the second quarter.

"Like I said to them, this is a player's game and they really stepped up," Philbin said.

As Demovsky noted, not enough of those things happened during the first 12 games of the season, leading to McCarthy's dismissal a week after an embarrassing home loss to the hapless Arizona Cardinals, a team that came into Lambeau Field with just two wins.

To be sure, the Falcons aren't exactly the Rams, Saints or even the NFC North-leading Bears -- where Philbin will take his team this Sunday. Indeed, this team, which was 4-7-1 when the coaching change was made, can only hope to win its final four games under Philbin.

"I don't know if anything felt way different," Rodgers said. "I just was trying to have fun out there and lead and inspire. Had a little maybe extra message this week for the guys on game day and just a couple more reminders on just how special the opportunities are and let's not let this one slip away regardless of what our record is. I'm not saying -- it probably has nothing to do with the way we played, but the guys knew basically by the way I was playing I was going to put my body on the line, took a couple shots, I'm dealing with a little bit of a sore back."

Of some interest to fantasy owners, this was Philbin's first game as an offensive play caller in the NFL. He said he last called plays in 1996, when he was Northeastern University's offensive coordinator.

Philbin, a former offensive line coach, went surprisingly pass-heavy early on. The Packers dropped back to pass on 81 percent of their first-half plays. They entered the week dropping back 69.9 percent of the time, second-highest in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Rodgers broke Tom Brady's record for most pass attempts (358) without an interception. Even in Rodgers' worst season as a starter, when he's missed throws he almost always made, he still avoided the big mistake. His record-breaking 359th throw was a 24-yard touchdown to Cobb in the third quarter. In the first half, he and Adams connected on a touchdown pass for the 11th time this season.

The Packers won even on a day when three-fifths of the starting offensive line -- guards Byron Bell and Lane Taylor plus right tackle Bryan Bulaga -- were inactive. Instead of it crippling them on offense, they managed just fine.

And so did Philbin. ... Other than the challenges.

But while the Packers are 1-0 in the Joe Philbin era, they're still just 5-7-1 and barely alive for the playoffs with three games to go. And not that the Packers didn't know so already with the Bears leading the NFC North, but Chicago's home win on Sunday night over the previously once-beaten Rams crystallized Green Bay's task this week.

"We know we're going to have to play an awfully good football game on Sunday at noon in Chicago," Philbin said on Monday. "We'll have to play as well as we've played for sure, if not better."

The Bears' impressive 15-6 triumph over the Rams improved Chicago's record to 9-4 and narrowed down the NFC North race to two teams - the Bears and Vikings. Should Minnesota (6-5-1) lose Monday night at Seattle, Chicago would be looking to clinch its first division title since 2010 next Sunday at Soldier Field.

The Bears are doing it with defense, and particularly with turnovers. Chicago has a league-best 34 takeaways on the season, six more than second-place Cleveland and nine more than anyone else.

Overall, Chicago's defense ranks second in rushing yards, ninth in passing yards and third in total yards, third-down conversions and points allowed. Philbin noted all the single-digit rankings jump off the NFL's weekly stat sheet and indicate there are not a lot of weaknesses to attack in coordinator Vic Fangio's heralded unit.

It's going to be a serious test for Philbin, Rodgers and the offense.

Of some interest. ... According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Packers placed right guard Byron Bell on injured reserve, and signed guard Nico Siragusa off the Ravens practice squad.

Bell was inactive last week because of a knee problem, one of three starters to miss the game (along with right tackle Bryan Bulaga and left guard Lane Taylor). The former Panthers, Titans, and Cowboys lineman was moved into the starting lineup in October and had started nine straight games.

Siragusa was a fourth-round pick of the Ravens in 2017, but he spent his rookie year on injured reserve after blowing out his knee in training camp.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, DeShone Kizer
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Kapri Bibbs
WRs: Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown, J'mon Moore, Jake Kumerow, Trevor Davis
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis, Lance Kendricks

Houston Texans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

The Houston Texans still have plenty of breathing room in the AFC South after their 24-21 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, but the team showed that they need to improve on offense if they want to do more than just win the division.

"We didn't play well as an offense," head coach Bill O'Brien said. "We were never able to get into a rhythm. Our first down offense was terrible. I mean, it was awful."

Although Houston scored 21 points, the offense wasn't consistent, failing to move the ball well on the ground and going just 5-of-15 on third down. The Texans not only saw their nine-game winning streak end, they missed their chance to jump the Patriots for the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye.

As ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop reminded readers, throughout their winning streak, the Texans had success with a balanced attack, leaning heavily on their running game. After running back Lamar Miller rushed for more than 100 yards in back-to-back weeks, he and backup Alfred Blue combined for 54 yards on 20 carries against the Colts, although each had a short touchdown run.

Miller had negative yardage at halftime and said he thought that was because the Colts "did a good job of twisting up front" and that the offense came out slow to start the game.

"Having a balance and establishing the run game slows down the offensive line, slows down the secondary coming up in the run [and it] just kind of opens up the pass game," quarterback Deshaun Watson said. "If you don't establish the run game, get the other team's defensive line going, they get momentum, juice and confidence, and the secondary can play a little bit tighter, because they feel like their defensive line is geared up."

Without that balance, the Texans' offensive line had trouble in pass protection and Indianapolis finished the game with five sacks and seven quarterback hits. Watson completed 27 of 38 passes for 267 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. He was under pressure and forced to move around a lot, and O'Brien said Houston needs to find the balance of letting Watson hold onto the ball to have a chance to make big plays and taking those negative plays.

"We have to find that balance, no doubt about it," O'Brien said. "Obviously, got a little out of whack today. Some of it's the blocking, some of it's the route running. It's not just one thing. There were times where he needs to get rid of the ball. We've got to continue to work on that."

Watson said he thought his performance against the Colts "was decent," but that he missed two deep balls: one to DeAndre Hopkins and another to Demaryius Thomas.

Watson did spread the ball around, completing passes to eight different receivers. The team was already without slot receiver Keke Coutee, who was inactive with a hamstring injury, and lost receiver DeAndre Carter in the first half with a concussion. The injury forced Houston to get creative at wide receiver, including getting third string quarterback Joe Webb involved in the passing game. It also led to a higher usage than normal of tight ends for the Texans, including Ryan Griffin, who led the team with five catches for 80 yards. Hopkins was targeted 10 times and had four catches for 36 yards and a touchdown.

"Everyone in our offense could have played better," Watson said. "But, I mean, games like that happen. It's a good learning lesson for us today [and we've got to] watch the film and correct it."

While the Texans (9-4) missed an opportunity to gain ground in the AFC playoff race, they can clinch the AFC South with a victory on Saturday against the Jets and losses by the Colts and Titans.

One last note here. ... O'Brien told reporters on Tuesday that Coutee is "trending toward being able to play." I'll have more on his status -- as well as that of D'Onta Foreman (who was inactive for his first game coming off the PUP list this past Sunday) as Saturday's kickoff draws nearer.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Deshaun Watson, Brandon Weeden
RBs: Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue, D'Onta Foreman
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Demaryius Thomas, Keke Coutee, DeAndre Carter
TEs: Ryan Griffin, Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas

Indianapolis Colts

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Mike Wells framed it, "For the first three series, the Indianapolis Colts sputtered, sputtered and sputtered along to three-and-out punts.

"They couldn't run the ball. They couldn't catch the ball, either. Things were setting up to be a long afternoon at NRG Stadium against the Houston Texans.

"But then it happened. ..."

"It" was head coach Frank Reich adapting to what the Texans were doing by going up-tempo and putting the ball in quarterback Andrew Luck's hands to let him do what he does best -- pick apart the defense.

The Colts ripped off 17 straight points and didn't look back, putting an end to Houston's nine-game winning streak 24-21 and, more importantly, keeping their playoff hopes alive with three weeks left in the season.

"We started [Houston's winning] streak, so it was only right that we ended the streak," receiver T.Y. Hilton said. "Came here with the mindset that we weren't going to be denied."

With just three games left in the regular season, the battle for the final playoff spot in the AFC is as murky as Florida swamp water, as the Colts are one of four 7-6 teams fighting for the final AFC playoff berth with Denver at 6-6 entering its game in San Francisco. The Colts have a 32 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN's Football Power Index.

It's unclear whether the Colts will make the playoffs in what has become a wild conference race, but on Sunday they showed what they're capable of doing. That's why it was baffling that they were shut out against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week.

"Let me just tell you, as an offensive coach after you throw up a goose egg, it's a long week and there's a lot of pressure on you next week," Reich said. "You start off the way we started off, it was not what we were hoping for, but guys believe."

Trying to mix in the run with the pass was not working for the Colts early, so Reich went with more three-receiver sets, with Luck taking the snap out of the shotgun. Their first series going that way was successful, as they went 61 yards, but the drive ended with an interception off a dropped pass by Zach Pascal.

The confidence was there for the Colts, though.

"Felt like Andrew was in a groove," Reich said. "Felt like our O-line was in a groove, tiring them out. They weren't getting pressure on us. Andrew was picking them apart. That drive was to get something going."

In running off 17 straight points, they went from looking like they would struggle moving the ball to not having a problem against the Texans.

"You just need one play to get everybody going," tight end Eric Ebron said. "When T.Y. did his thing, you just felt a breeze of energy come through the whole offense. We started playing football."

There was a little doubt Hilton would be available to play. He went into the game listed as questionable after not practicing twice last week. Hilton said after the game there was no doubt in his mind he would be available.

That's a good thing, because Hilton dominated the Texans at NRG Stadium throughout his seven-year NFL career.

Luck finished 27-of-41 for 399 yards and two touchdowns. He had 385 of those yards in the final three quarters. Hilton was his primary target throughout game.

The receiver had nine catches for 199 yards in this one. He had four catches for 115 yards against the Texans earlier this season to give him 41 receptions for 932 yards and seven touchdowns in seven games played in Houston.

"This is a second home," Hilton said, laughing.

"I think throughout the week we noticed some things where we thought we could take advantage of T.Y.'s speed and his maneuverability," Luck said in his press conference after the game. "T.Y. does some things very special. He does something things that not many other people can do. So we saw I think some opportunities through film that we thought we could take advantage of. Once we got that first one, it was like, 'OK, yeah here we go, let's get it.'

"When T.Y.'s in the zone, he's in the zone, man. It's fun to play with him. It's an honor to play with him, and I sincerely mean that."

Hilton has more yards against the Texans than any other opponent. The only other team he has 1,000 career yards against is the Jaguars.

For the record, Hilton did not practice Wednesday due to an ankle injury, which is a new issue for him; I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...

On a more positive note. ... Dontrelle Inman, who missed last week's game with a shoulder issue, is practicing in full to open this week.

Meanwhile, there's three games left in the regular season, and the Colts' performance on the road against a very good Houston defense should scare the AFC's top contenders.

Indianapolis' victory coupled with Baltimore's overtime loss to Kansas City has the Colts (7-6) in a four-way tie for the final playoff spot with three games to go.

"Right now, what we're focused on is (this) week [against Dallas]," Reich said. "That's all that matters. We talked about it before this last game; we do have a goal of going 4-0 in the fourth quarter [of the season]."

One last note here. ... The Colts released tight end Erik Swoope on Tuesday.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett
RBs: Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins, Nyheim Hines
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Dontrelle Inman, Ryan Grant, Chester Rogers, Zach Pascal
TEs: Eric Ebron, Mo Alie-Cox, Ryan Hewitt

Jacksonville Jaguars

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

Doug Marrone was hoping for a spark and more production out of the pass game when he fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and benched quarterback Blake Bortles.

What the Jacksonville Jaguars coach has gotten instead is two of the season's worst offensive performances -- and even further reinforcement that the offensive side of the ball had better be the franchise's top priority in the offseason.

As ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco notes, last Thursday night's 30-9 loss to Tennessee at Nissan Stadium -- the Jaguars' fourth in a row in the series between the AFC South teams and sixth in the past seven games -- was every bit as embarrassing as the team's 36-22 loss on "Thursday Night Football" in 2016.

"Maybe worse," DiRocco continued, "because the offense at least put up some garbage-time yards and points in the second half in '16."

The defense was just as bad as the offense on Thursday. One week after putting together the kind of dominant performance that was a regular occurrence in 2017, the defense gave up multiple long touchdowns to Derrick Henry -- a 99-yarder in the second quarter and a 54-yarder in the third quarter. Henry, whose longest run of the season prior to Thursday night was 16 yards, finished with a Titans-record 238 yards and four touchdowns on only 17 carries.

That's a huge problem because there are eight starters who have made Pro Bowls on the unit, but Marrone didn't fire coordinator Todd Wash two weeks ago and the only personnel change was benching strong safety Barry Church for rookie Ronnie Harrison. The Jaguars had been a top-10 defense most of the season anyway, even though they weren't pressuring the quarterback and forcing turnovers at the same rate they did last season.

The offense has been a mess since the first month of the season and was borderline nonfunctional on Thursday. The Jaguars are certainly dealing with limitations. They're on their fourth-string left tackle and are starting backups at left guard and center. Cody Kessler is nowhere near as mobile as Bortles and he has been getting pummeled behind the makeshift lineup. He nearly lost a fumble after a sack last weekend and did lose one against the Titans.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the only legitimate receiving threat at tight end, has been on injured reserve since Week 5 with a sports hernia. Marqise Lee, the Jaguars' top receiver, has missed the entire season with a knee injury. Second-year player Keelan Cole, whom the franchise believed was going to be a big-time player, was benched after dropping five passes and losing two fumbles in October.

Even with all of those injuries and problems, there's still no excuse for what the Jaguars did against the Titans and the weekend before against the Colts. The Jaguars had just 98 yards of total offense in the first half -- one yard fewer than Henry had on his second-quarter touchdown run. That came four days after they managed just 105 yards in the first half against the Colts and finished with 211, their second-lowest total of the season.

"We don't have the luxury of making any excuses," left guard Patrick Omameh said. "It's the nature of the league. Injuries happen. Nobody's going to feel sorry for us on the other side of the ball. When you get on the field you've just got to get out there and play."

The Jaguars managed only one touchdown against the Titans: Dede Westbrook's fourth-down TD catch with 1:49 remaining in the third quarter. That was the Jaguars' first touchdown since Westbrook's touchdown catch with 1:20 remaining in the 24-21 loss to Buffalo on Nov. 25.

They couldn't get in the end zone on five snaps inside the 7-yard line. The Titans stuffed Leonard Fournette on fourth-and-goal from the 1 after Marrone bypassed a field goal that would have cut the Titans' lead to 7-5 midway through the second quarter.

"We didn't do a good job up front," Marrone said. "We got beat up front."

Marrone was talking about the entire game, but he might as well have included the previous game in that, too.

All they could manage against the Colts were a pair of field goals in a 6-0 victory. Fournette was suspended for that game, but he was on the field against the Titans and managed only 29 yards on 13 carries before the Jaguars went into hurry-up mode after the game got out of hand.

"They have us right now," Marrone said of the Titans (7-6). "It's the last time we play them this year, and next year it will be a different team."

Especially on offense.

Marrone fired Hackett, benched Bortles, and had quarterback coach Scott Milanovich call plays to shake the offense out of its malaise. All it did was highlight the fact that the franchise has a long list of issues to fix in 2019 if it's going to again be competitive in the AFC South.

Not surprisingly, there is "growing perception" that Jacksonville's executive vice president Tom Coughlin could be the team's head coach in 2019, according to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora.

"Coughlin is a noted disciplinarian who has been appalled by some of what he has seen this season, I'm told," La Canfora wrote on Sunday morning. "Doug Marrone has been unable to get the team to perform close to its standard from last season, and the penalties, issues with the media, outlandish statements, lashing out at teammates and opponents and failure to put forth the expected effort has the franchise in a crisis."

A return to the sideline would be Coughlin's second stint as Jacksonville's head coach.

He led the Jaguars from their inaugural season in 1995 until 2002, going 68-60. The 72-year-old Coughlin would be the oldest coach in the NFL next season.

Coughlin coached the Giants after his stint in Jacksonville, winning 102 games in 12 seasons. New York won two Super Bowls under Coughlin, claiming the Lombardi Trophy in 2007 and 2011.

Meanwhile, Fournette has had a disappointing season, and last Thursday night may have been his worst game yet.

Fournette finished with 14 carries for 36 yards, plus two catches for five yards, for a total of 41 yards from scrimmage, and an average of 2.6 yards per touch.

As Profootballtalk.com's Michael David Smith suggests, Fournette has missed six games because of hamstring injuries and missed a seventh game because of a suspension. In the six games he's played, he's failed to reach 100 yards and has totaled just 350 yards on 104 carries, an average of 3.4 yards per carry.

When Fournette is out, the Jaguars are no worse a team than when he's in. So far in his two-year career, the Jaguars are 9-10 in games Fournette has played and 5-5 in games he has missed.

The Jaguars' decision to draft Fournette fourth overall in 2017 looks even worse in hindsight when Patrick Mahomes went 10th overall and Deshaun Watson went 12th overall, and they look like two of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. The Jaguars, meanwhile, have benched Blake Bortles for Cody Kessler and look like they're in need of a total rebuild.

Also worth noting. ... A video posted on TMZ Monday shows Fournette engaged in verbal volleying with a fan during last Thursday's game in Nashville and Fournette can be heard telling the other person that he "will beat your ass."

Fournette also tells the fan that he is "too old for that" before being led away by others on the Jaguars sideline. Marrone said that the team's director of public relations Tad Dickman showed him the video on Monday and that he spoke to Fournette about it.

"Tad showed it to me prior to our walkthrough today," Marrone said, via USA Today. "And then when I was out on the field after our walkthrough, I met with Leonard. He said there was a racial slur, so that's what was told to me."

Marrone said he trusts Fournette when he was asked about corroboration and he said "that's kind of a tough one" when asked if the league should face potential discipline from the league. He also said that he hoped Nissan Stadium security is looking into the matter because "no one wants that stuff around this game."

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Blake Bortles, Cody Kessler
RBs: Leonard Fournette, David Williams, Carlos Hyde, T.J. Yeldon
WRs: Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole, Donte Moncrief, D.J. Chark, Rashad Greene
TEs: James O'Shaughnessy, Ben Koyack, Niles Paul

Kansas City Chiefs

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher suggested after Sunday's game, a few things to know about quarterback Patrick Mahomes on the biggest play of the Kansas City Chiefs' most improbable win of the season.

According to the NFL's NextGen stats:

He was running almost 16 mph when he threw the pass.

He scrambled 31.7 yards to get to his release point.

He threw the ball more than 43 yards down the field.

He had a completion probability of 15.8 percent.

Those weren't even the most surprising aspects of the play, though. Instead, it was that the Chiefs were expecting Mahomes' 48-yard completion to Tyreek Hill in a do-or-die moment of the fourth quarter in a game Kansas City would go on to win 27-24 in overtime.

The win moved the Chiefs to 11-2 and clinched a playoff spot for the fifth time in six years. Losses by the New England Patriots and Houston Texans on Sunday put Kansas City in prime position for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if it can get a victory in Week 15 against the Los Angeles Chargers.

"I kind of feel like we've been practicing that sometimes," said Hill, who made the catch despite a noticeable limp because of a foot injury he played through for most of the second half. "Coach [Andy] Reid, he puts us in these same moments in training camp against our own defense. It gets us ready."

The Chiefs couldn't possibly practice the play the way it developed.

Mahomes was running at full speed or something close after being chased from the pocket and heaved the ball back across his body to a waiting Hill downfield.

"Just how we designed it," Reid said.

It wasn't anything like what the Chiefs drew up, but Mahomes has made several similar throws before. Those passes taught the Chiefs never to give up on a play.

In this case, the play taught the Chiefs to never give up on a game that seemed lost. The Chiefs at the time trailed 24-17 with less than 1:30 left. Little had been working for them offensively, and they needed at least 9 yards on the play to avoid defeat. Until Damien Williams scored the tying touchdown four plays after Hill's catch, the Chiefs had been held scoreless in the second half.

Mahomes, it seems, was the only Chiefs player or coach unsure of what might happen when the ball left his hand.

"I knew it had a chance," Mahomes said. "It was kind of one he had to come back and get. I always say he'd be the best center fielder of all time because of the way he tracks the ball."

It wasn't even Mahomes' only spectacular play on the day.

The second-year quarterback also set the internet on fire during the field goal drive to end the first half. On the way to that score Mahomes completed a no-look pass to Demarcus Robinson for 17 yards.

Mahomes told Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio by phone after the game that, earlier in the year, he had thrown plenty of no-look passes in practice. So his receivers know to expect it, even when they may not be expecting it.

It's a specific technique from his time as a point guard in basketball, a sport that he played throughout most of his youth.

Second came the play that comes from the other sport that routinely is mentioned with Mahomes: Baseball. He fired a shortstop-style sidearm throw to running back Spencer Ware in stride for a big gain.

The baseball experiences, Mahomes explained, mean "everything" to his ability to make throws from all sorts of body positions and arm angles.

"When playing shortstop you're never set," Mahomes said. "You never have your feet under you."

It's working well for Mahomes, who has the uncanny ability to always remain within the limits of his abilities, doing what he needs to do while rarely trying to do too much. He did just enough on Sunday to beat back a stiff challenge from the Ravens, putting the team in position for a game-winning field goal in regulation that failed, and a game-winning field goal in overtime that didn't.

With both the Patriots and Texans losing, the Chiefs now have a clear path to the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

Mahomes is the biggest reason for this -- much like he's the biggest reason for the success of fantasy owners who have been rolling with the second-year signal caller on a weekly basis. ...

Meanwhile, of some concern, Hill told Peter King of NBC Sports that his foot was "bad".

Hill was in and out of the Chiefs' win over the Ravens with both wrist and ankle issues, but he came up with big plays when it mattered. "Our people did a tremendous job wrapping my foot," Hill said. "I was still feeling my heel, but at the same time, I knew that man, if you want the W, if you want to be a great receiver, this is your moment to make plays."

The speedy wideout ended up with eight catches for 139 yards including the above-outlined 48-yard grab on 4th-9 to set up the game-tying touchdown with 53 seconds left.

While it was impressive that Hill was able to play through the injuries on Sunday, he now faces a short week to get ready for the team's crucial AFC West showdown against the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

The good news?

Hill went for further examination by doctors on Monday and Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the feeling is that Hill's injury is "nothing serious."

In fact, Reid confirmed that Hill is considered day to day as the Chiefs move toward their Week 15 game against the Chargers. That game is on Thursday night, so even generally good news about his foot doesn't mean that he'll be feeling well enough to play in a few days.

Indeed, Hill is officially listed as questionable with heel and wrist issues. He’s listed as a limited participant in the team’s last two practices and signs have been pointing toward his presence in the lineup.

But it appears the team will be without Ware, who is listed as doubtful due to a foot injury. Ware’s been listed as a non-participant in practice all week and his absence would leave Damien Williams, Darrel Williams and Charcandrick West as the team’s backfield options.

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins remains out with a foot injury and left guard Cam Erving is doubtful with a knee injury.

Safety Eric Berry is listed as questionable again this week as we wait to see if he’ll make his first appearance of the season. It appears his heel injury has been getting better, but head coach Andy Reid would only say that there’s a “chance” the veteran will play on Thursday.

I'll be following up as necessary through Thursday night's kickoff.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Matthew McGloin
RBs: Damien Williams, Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West, Anthony Sherman
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Kelvin Benjamin, Chris Conley, Demarcus Robinson, Gehrig Dieter, Marcus Kemp
TEs: Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris

Los Angeles Chargers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

According to ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams, wearing a bulky leg brace to protect his sprained right knee, running back Melvin Gordon went through a 45-minute workout under the watchful eye of head athletic trainer Damon Mitchell before his team's contest against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Gordon looked better than expected, keeping open the possibility that he returns for a much-anticipated, Thursday night contest against the Chargers' AFC West rivals, the Kansas City Chiefs.

With Gordon unavailable, his replacement Austin Ekeler carried the load for the Chargers on offense as they held off the Bengals 26-21 on Sunday at StubHub Center.

The Chargers needed a Darius Philon sack of Cincinnati quarterback Jeff Driskel on a failed two-point conversion to avoid overtime.

Ekeler kept the chains moving with 94 total yards from scrimmage, including 66 rushing yards. He also had a 5-yard run for a score.

However, after recently dealing with stingers, Ekeler aggravated the neck injury on Sunday and will require further testing, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Ekeler was injured while attempting to recover an onside kick at the end of the game against the Bengals. He was officially ruled out for Thursday due a "bruised nerve" in his neck.

"You can't let your pride get in the way of it," Ekeler told reporters earlier this week. "It's football, yeah, but there's a lot of life after football, too."

Ekeler said he had a similar injury last year, but this one is worse.

Gordon, meanwhile, is traveling Kansas City and is officially questionable to play against the Chiefs.

Head coach Anthony Lynn told NFL Network's Steve Wyche earlier this week that he wasn’t counting on Gordon, but NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported Wednesday there’s still a shot and Gordon is pushing hard to play.

Stay tuned. I'll have more on Gordon via Late-Breaking Update in advance of Thursday night's kickoff. ...

Behind Ekeler and Gordon, the Chargers have rookie running backs Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome, so the Bolts need their two, frontline runners to get healthy fast on a short week.

Jackson played 21 of 57 snaps Sunday and has played only 60 offensive snaps all season.

The seventh-round pick has 22 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown in the past three games and 27 carries for 139 yards and a touchdown for the season.

Jackson is in line to start if Gordon can't go in what's a very important contest.

A game behind Kansas City with the Chiefs currently holding the tiebreaker, the Chargers would have a tough time earning a top-two seed at his point.

To win the division for the first time since 2009, the Chargers would need to win Thursday and have Kansas City lose one of their two remaining games (on the road against the Seattle Seahawks or at home against the Oakland Raiders). The Chargers would also have to win out in that scenario.

The Chargers can also clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Chiefs, which would be the franchise's first playoff berth since 2013, ending the Bolts' longest playoff drought since missing eight-straight postseasons from 1996 to 2003.

The Chargers have not defeated Kansas City since a 24-21 overtime victory in the final game of the 2013 season that propelled them to the playoffs that season. ...

Other notes of interest. ... Keenan Allen hauled in a 14-yard touchdown on the opening drive Sunday, and in the process, eclipsed 1,000 yards on the season for the third time in his career. It also marks the first back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons by a Charger since Vincent Jackson did it 2008-09.

The score gave Allen sole possession of 12th in team history with 28 career TD catches, and extended his career-long streak to five straight games with a touchdown reception.

And finally. ... Rookie kicker Michael Badgley continued to impress, making a franchise-record 59-yard field goal at the end of the first half, one of four field goals he made on the day.

Badgley has brought such stability since taking over as the team's kicker, and he showed just why he's earned his "Money Badger" nickname with a record-setting performance vs. the Bengals.

In addition to the 59-yarder, he also made good from 45, 32 and 31 yards and hit both of his extra-point attempts to provide more than half of Los Angeles' point total.

Overall, he accounted for 14 points, giving him 62 total on the year, which now ranks as the most by a Chargers kicker through seven games in team history.

On Wednesday, he was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week

It's clear the Bolts have the utmost confidence in Badgley and that's not something the Chargers have been able to say about their recent string of kickers.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Philip Rivers, Geno Smith
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Detrez Newsome
WRs: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Geremy Davis, Dylan Cantrell
TEs: Antonio Gates, Hunter Henry, Virgil Green

Los Angeles Rams

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

Jared Goff was born in California and played his college ball for California before beginning his pro career in Southern California with the Los Angeles Rams.

As Associated Press sports writer Jay Cohen suggested, "The Golden State kid looked a little lost in the Windy City."

Harassed by Chicago's fierce pass rush all night long, Goff threw a career-high four interceptions in a costly 15-6 loss to the Bears on Sunday at a chilly Soldier Field. Several of Goff's passes wobbled coming out of his right hand, and it was hard to tell where he was going on a couple more throws.

"It's definitely tough to play in a big-time game like that and not play well and not win and not do what you want to do," Goff said. "But at the same time we're 11-2, won the division with three weeks left and have everything in front of us and feel really good about that."

The loss dropped Los Angeles into a tie with New Orleans in the race for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Saints hold the tiebreaker after topping the Rams 45-35 on Nov. 4.

Goff and company had won three in a row since falling short in New Orleans, averaging 40 points during the streak. But Los Angeles' prolific offense was completely shut down by Khalil Mack and the Bears (9-4).

"They did a good job getting some pressure and then they played tight coverage and there really just weren't many plays to make tonight because of some of the selections that I had," second-year head coach Sean McVay said. "So certainly don't blame Jared for a lot of bad spots that I put him in."

Goff was 20 for 44 for a season-low 180 yards. NFL rushing leader Todd Gurley managed just 28 yards on 11 carries, both season lows. Greg Zuerlein booted a 40-yard field goal attempt off the right upright at a key moment in the fourth quarter.

"They did a great job," Gurley said. "We played like s--- and they held us to six points, and it's as simple as that."

Gurley, a front-runner for the NFL's MVP award who leads the league with 19 touchdowns, had his fewest rushing yards since his rookie season in 2015. He added three catches for 30 yards. But for the second time in three games, he was kept from the end zone. As ESPN.com's Lindsay Thiry noted, the numbers are even more concerning given how much the Rams' offense struggled in the passing game.

"I don't make the play calls," Gurley said when asked why he had limited touches.

McVay shouldered the blame for a game plan that put his offense, which had averaged 439.9 yards and 34.9 points per game, in a bind throughout the night.

McVay pointed to the Bears' defensive scheme, which he said often put six players near the line of scrimmage, as the reason for relying on the pass rather than running Gurley, who is second in the league with 1,203 rushing yards.

"We felt like we had to be able to [pass]; the best way to be able to move the football was going to be throwing it," McVay said. "So whatever I was deciding on tonight clearly wasn't putting our players in good spots."

The Rams finished with a season-low 214 total yards, and the six points scored were the second fewest by a McVay-led offense in his 79th game (regular season and postseason) as an offensive coordinator or head coach. And it was just the second time a McVay offense didn't score a touchdown, per ESPN Stats and Information.

"It was on everybody, we all played bad," Gurley said. "Coaches down to the players."

Goff threw his first interception on Los Angeles' third possession. Bears defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard pushed Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth into Goff, and his wobbly pass went right to Roquan Smith for the rookie linebacker's first career pick.

Goff threw another interception on a Hail Mary on the final play of the half, but the game was tied at 6 at the break.

Goff's last interception went to Prince Amukamara late in the fourth quarter, sealing the loss for the Rams (11-2).

"I thought I put him in really bad spots tonight," McVay said.

Goff also struggled in the previous week's 30-16 win at Detroit, going 17 for 33 for 207 yards and a touchdown with an interception. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft said he feels fine and just needs to play better.

"I don't think this will be the last time I have a bad game," he said. "And I don't think it will be the last time I have two bad games in a row if I play for as long as I want to."

A victory would have secured the Rams a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Instead, they return to L.A. to face the Eagles while locked in a battle with the Saints for NFC home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

One last note on Sunday's scoring output. ... The Rams have truly gone full circle. They entered Sunday averaging 34.9 points per game through 12 games. The last team averaging 34.0-plus points per game through at least 10 games in a season, to score fewer than 10 points in a game: The St. Louis Rams -- 3 points on Dec. 3, 2000 at the Panthers (after averaging 36.3 in their prior 12 games), per the Elias Sports Bureau.

On the injury front. ... Defensive back Dominique Hatfield suffered a major ankle injury on a special-teams play against the Bears and will require season-ending surgery, McVay said.

Offensive linemen Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan both missed time Sunday, but McVay said both players were fine. Sullivan was evaluated for a concussion during the first half but returned, while Saffold missed some fourth-quarter play with an ankle injury.

McVay said the Rams will put running back Malcolm Brown (shoulder) on injured reserve and promote linebacker Trevon Young to the 53-man roster.

John Kelly and Justin Davis are now the running backs behind Gurley on the depth chart.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jared Goff, Sean Mannion, Brandon Allen
RBs: Todd Gurley, C.J. Anderson, John Kelly, Justin Davis
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Josh Reynolds, JoJo Natson, KhaDarel Hodge
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett, Johnny Mundt

Miami Dolphins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

As Associated Press sports writer Steven Wine framed it, "Now the Miami Dolphins will try to pull off another miracle. ..."

After beating New England with a pass and double lateral on the final play, the Dolphins are 7-6 and could use some more magic in the next three weeks to make the playoffs.

Head coach Adam Gase figures his Dolphins (7-6) probably need to sweep their remaining games - at Minnesota, home against Jacksonville and at Buffalo - to earn an AFC wild card berth.

But when asked Monday if he's optimistic, Gase grinned.

"I'd better be," he said. "We just won a game that ... I like where we're at. We're alive."

The Dolphins saved their season with the play borrowed from Boise State and thus called "Boise." Kenyan Drake took the last lateral and ran 52 yards to complete a 69-yard score for a 34-33 victory.

The last player Drake eluded was 6-6 tight end Rob Gronkowski, whose lumbering presence at the back of the Patriots' prevent defense prompted plenty of second-guessing in Boston and elsewhere.

"I saw it was Gronk in front of me, and I was just like, 'Look, I've got somewhere to be,'" Drake said. "I had to get in the end zone."

As a result of the improbable win, the Dolphins are unlikely playoff race participants.

They've been outgained by 1,177 yards and outscored by 55 points, and rank 29th in the NFL in both offense and defense. But only five AFC teams have a better record, and they're tied with three other teams in the race for the last wild-card berth.

The challenge now for the Dolphins is to build on their miracle.

"It means nothing if we don't finish the season strong and find our way into the playoffs," receiver Kenny Stills said.

Gase was so ready to move on he turned off his phone soon after the game and ignored incoming congratulatory messages.

"I was working on Minnesota," he said, a little sheepish.

As preparations began, quarterback Ryan Tannehill showed good mobility in the team complex less than 24 hours after the win. He played the second half against New England with an injured right ankle.

"He's sore," Gase said. "He's walking around, so that's good."

The Dolphins also hope AFC interception leader Xavien Howard can play after missing the Patriots game because of a left knee injury, but his status is uncertain.

Tannehill is 47-of-68 for 606 yards, eight touchdowns and an interception in his three games since returning from a right shoulder injury. The Dolphins have won two of those games as he's compiled a passer rating of 129.9. His 105.7 rating for the season ranks sixth in the NFL.

"He has played the way we need him to play these last few games," Gase said.

Tannehill was credited with three touchdown passes against the Patriots, including on the final play when his toss to Stills covered the first 14 yards before rugby broke out.

The play kept the Dolphins relevant, at least for another week, Tannehill said.

"We know the situation we're in," he said. "Before this game we're sitting at 6-6 and on the outside looking in. We know every game from here on out is pretty much do or die."

The Dolphins remain long shots. But after what happened Sunday, it might to unwise to count them out. ...

One potential issue? Tannehill's health.

The QB suffered an ankle injury during the game and needs to be monitored this week, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports.

That said, Tannehill was on the field Wednesday, so I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Updates as Sunday's game against the Vikings draws nearer. ...

Meanwhile, Palm Beach Post reporter Steve Gorte notes that Sunday's glory belonged to his backfield mate, Drake, it was another gritty performance by Frank Gore that helped position the Dolphins to pull off the 34-33 victory.

Gore rushed 12 times for 92 yards against the Patriots to lead a rushing attack that accounted for 189 yards and two touchdowns while averaging nine yards a carry. He also caught one pass for 24 yards to set up the Dolphins' fourth touchdown.

"I'm just playing hard, man, doing whatever it takes to help my team be successful," Gore said, crediting the offensive line. "Whenever my number gets called, I try my best to do it right."

While Drake's punctuation of a 69-yard pass-play with two laterals will forever be remembered, Gore made his own history with a 4-yard run in the first quarter. That carry, Gore's fourth of the game, pushed him past LaDainian Tomlinson into fifth all-time in NFL history in yards from scrimmage. Gore, who finished the game with 18,506 for his career, needs 649 to supplant Marshall Faulk for fourth most.

Earlier this season, he moved past Curtis Martin into fourth on the NFL's all-time list for rushing yards.

Sunday's effort seemed to be another indicator that Gore will play beyond this season, though the former University of Miami standout stiff-armed a post-game question about that.

"I dunno," he said matter-of-factly. "We take it one game at a time, one year at a time. We've got three more [games]. Hopefully we can get on a roll, keep winning, try to get in the postseason, and I'll see how my body feels, see if the Dolphins want me to come back, and make a decision."

Also worth noting. ... Brandon Bolden said there was no extra motivation playing the Patriots, even though they cut him at the end of training camp this year after six seasons.

But he certainly made his mark against his former team Sunday, rushing for two touchdowns on two carries.

The reserve running back/special teamer had just one carry for 10 yards this season before Sunday, and a total of two touchdowns in his previous 79 games combined, when he took a hand-off from Tannehill early in the second quarter.

He dashed through an opening over right tackle and sprinted through the Patriots' defense for a 54-yard score.

Bolden followed his first rushing touchdown since Week 13 of 2014 with a 6-yard touchdown up the middle later in the quarter. Gase said coaches had been "kind of waiting to use him."

They had plans for him against the Bills last week, Gase noted, and "we got him in there on a touch and [Kenyan] Drake and him had another play that didn't work out too well."

Gase added that Bolden runs hard, and "he's so valuable on special teams that he's getting a lot of snaps there." Sunday's performance might earn Bolden more chances on offense.

"We've got enough packages with him in them that when he touches the ball, he can be explosive," Gase said.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler, David Fales, Luke Falk
RBs: Kenyan Drake, Kalen Ballage, Brandon Bolden, Senorise Perry
WRs: Kenny Stills, Danny Amendola, DeVante Parker, Leonte Carroo, Isaiah Ford, Brice Butler
TEs: Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, Nick O'Leary, A.J. Derby, MarQueis Gray

Minnesota Vikings

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

According to ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin, the Vikings will likely reach the playoffs despite a 21-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night.

But make no mistake, the way the Vikings (6-6-1) performed in yet another crucial game appears to foreshadow what's in store down the line: One step closer to an early exit in January.

So far this season, the Vikings have done very little to prove they're legitimate contenders for a deep postseason run.

They're now 0-5-1 against teams that enter the game .500 or better and 6-1 versus teams that have a .500 or worse record.

The way they lost in Seattle, largely because of an offense that crashed and burned from the first drive of the game, is among the litany of issues that could bite them in the postseason.

So how do they fix it?

"That's a good question," head coach Mike Zimmer said after the game. "Keep at it. Keep trying to find things that we're good at. We didn't score very many points tonight, didn't score very many points last week. Part of it is being better on third downs; we haven't really done a good job there. Part of it is being better in the red zone; had the ball on the 2-yard line, didn't score. You keep doing things like that, you're not going to score too many points."

On Tuesday, Zimmer offered up a more tangible answer to the question when the Vikings fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.

Quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski was elevated to interim OC and will over play-calling duties.

DeFilippo's firing comes hours after Pro Bowl receiver Adam Thielen defended the OC following Monday's 21-7 loss.

"You hear the offensive coordinator (John DeFilippo) is getting a lot of ridicule, but it's about the players," Thielen said after the game, via the Pioneer Press. "The players have got to make the plays. It doesn't matter what play is called, you have to run that play and you have to be successful on it. It just comes down to execution, all 11 players doing the right thing."

Nonetheless, DeFilippo took the fall for a crumbling offense.

Remember, the Vikings signed DeFilippo in the offseason after Pat Shurmur took over as the New York Giants head coach.

Also remember, this time a year ago, DeFilippo was viewed as the hottest OC candidate after helping the Eagles win the Super Bowl as quarterbacks coach. The 40-year-old was widely credited with aiding Carson Wentz's MVP-caliber season and helping morph Nick Foles into a Super Bowl MVP.

But the Vikings offense hasn't scored more than 24 points in six straight games, ranks 17th in total yards per game (354.4), 8th in passing yards per game (269.0), 30th in rushing yards per game (85.4) and 20th in scoring (21.7).

Minnesota has lost four of its last six games and sit precariously in the sixth seed of the NFC playoff picture after entering the season with Super Bowl aspirations.

Throughout the Vikings' skid, Zimmer repeatedly and publicly chastised his offensive coordinator for not generating a rushing attack. While the Vikings attempted to get the ground-game going Monday night, the poor offensive performance, in which Minnesota didn't score a point until garbage-time, sealed DeFilippo's fate.

DeFilippo's firing marks the second in-season OC change in the past three seasons under Zimmer. Norv Turner quit midway through the 2016 season, paving the way for Shurmur to take over.

Whatever the case, Kirk Cousins is now 0-7 on Monday Night Football, the worst record in MNF history by a starting QB. From the start, the quarterback was rattled on dropbacks on which he was pressured. In the first half, Cousins was pressured on three of his nine dropbacks but appeared panicked immediately after each snap.

In fact, Cousins had more time to throw in the first half of Monday's loss -- an average of 3.70 seconds from snap to release on his passes, per NFL NextGenStats -- than he had had all season (2.69 seconds on average), but went 4-for-8 for 27 yards in the first two quarters.

Those are issues Cousins and his offensive line have faced all season.

While Minnesota's O-line has struggled in protection throughout the 2018 campaign, hobbled by injuries and players being forced to play out of position, Cousins has not been able to overcome what's happening in front of him.

It's something the quarterback reflected on after the game, wondering aloud if he would have found more success hitting his receivers downfield and setting up plays by utilizing his athleticism to combat pressure from the Seahawks' front.

"What I felt coming off the field is there's always a balance, a really hard balance to find between sitting in the pocket, going through your read, staying patient and then getting out of the pocket, giving up on the play and playing off schedule," Cousins said. "And I think that's something I'm going to go back and watch as to when do I want to quit on a play and get out and scramble and try to make something off schedule. I think I have the athleticism to do that. I think that's in my game. I don't think it's something I do a lot of or enough, maybe, and when you have a pass rush like the Seahawks tonight, getting in there and influencing the plays and coverage, that was pretty sound. Maybe there were some times where I could've done that."

And while the line's struggles have been noted, much of what transpired Monday was a result of Cousins' inability to execute under pressure in the broadest sense.

He went 20-for-33 passing for 208 yards, a touchdown and a fumble that resulted in a Seahawks score.

Cousins consistently left his two best playmakers wide open. On Minnesota's second drive, the quarterback had his back turned to Thielen, who was free 20 yards downfield, and instead dumped a short pass off behind him to Latavius Murray that went for a 2-yard gain.

It happened again in the third quarter, when Cousins had Stefon Diggs wide open in the flat and instead hit Kyle Rudolph for a 2-yard gain. And it happened again on one of two late chances the Vikings would have in the red zone, set up by the deepest pass Cousins has completed in weeks, a 48-yard bomb to Diggs. But instead of executing his read to Thielen, whose defender had fallen and left the Pro Bowl receiver wide open, Cousins threw a pass to Rudolph in the back of the end zone on fourth-and-1 that was tipped and fell incomplete.

In the end, while it was admirable for Thielen to take the blame, he's incorrect.

As Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio put it, "Yes, the players need to execute the plays. But the job of the coordinator is to come up with ideas and concepts that will work against a given opponent, and to pick the right plays to use at the right time.

"The Vikings failed to do that to the Seattle defense last night, at any time during the game that it mattered, as DeFilippo failed to design and to call the right plays at the right time."

The broader truth is that Zimmer has failed to entrust the offense to someone who can consistently do what needs to be done to complement a defense that somehow kept the Vikings in the game until the dam finally broke late in the fourth quarter. ...

On a more positive note. ... Thielen tied Cris Carter as the fastest Minnesota player to reach 100 receptions in a season, both accomplishing the feat in 13 games. Carter did it in 1994 when he finished the year with 122 catches. Thielen is the first Minnesota receiver to get to 100 catches since Randy Moss in 2003.

But Thielen didn't get his first catch until midway through the third quarter. He finished with five catches for 70 yards.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Trevor Siemian, Kyle Sloter
RBs: Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, Ameer Abdullah
WRs: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Laquon Treadwell, Aldrick Robinson, Brandon Zylstra, Chad Beebe
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Tyler Conklin

New England Patriots

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

Coming off its most impressive performance of the season, the New England Patriots' defense took a major step backward in Sunday's 34-33 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.

ESPN.com's Mike Reiss nailed it, when he wrote "It doesn't get much worse than giving up a desperation 69-yard touchdown on the last play of the game."

Reiss went on to suggest the performance sparks some old questions about the unit and how much the Patriots can rely on it as they hope to make another postseason run.

On the final play, Ryan Tannehill threw a 14-yard pass to Kenny Stills, who lateraled to DeVante Parker. Parker then quickly lateraled to Kenyan Drake, who took it 52 yards, beating two Patriots to the corner of the end zone -- defensive back J.C. Jackson and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was on the field as part of New England's prevent defense.

It was a breakdown of epic proportions. How does that happen?

It starts with a questionable coaching decision to put Hail Mary personnel on the field, with Gronkowski taking the place of safety Devin McCourty. The Dolphins had the ball at their own 31, which made a 69-yard Hail Mary pass unlikely.

"We practice that play a few times, for the Hail Mary, you guys have seen it before: Go up and get the ball. They changed it up a little bit," Gronkowski said. "You have to be ready for anything."

It was the dagger for a defense that couldn't slow down the Dolphins' running game for most of the day.

"Unfortunately we didn't do a good job on that play. We need to obviously coach it better, play it better," Bill Belichick said.

The Patriots made a second-half adjustment to play more base defense, giving them a seven-man box that was more stout. The results improved slightly, but by that point, there was little margin for error, in part because of missed opportunities from the offense and special teams earlier in the game.

Meanwhile, Tom Brady made an uncharacteristic mental mistake at the end of the second quarter by taking a sack when the team didn't have any timeouts, which cost the team at least a field goal. And kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point and a 42-yard field goal. It was his shortest missed field goal of the season, and he was 37-of-37 on extra points before Sunday.

The Patriots, who drop to 9-4 and could have clinched their 10th straight AFC East title with a win Sunday, will now look to do so with a win this Sunday in Pittsburgh.

While it doesn't all fall on the defense, the Patriots will need a much better performance in Pittsburgh to have a chance.

Reasons for optimism?

As Boston Herald staffer Kevin Duffy reported, Brady submitted one of his best performances of the season in a losing effort, routinely connecting with Josh Gordon, Gronkowski, and Julian Edelman to shred the Miami secondary.

The trio combined to catch 22 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns.

The sequence that stands out for Brady: On consecutive plays in the second quarter, Brady delivered two strikes, the first on a third-and-10 out route to Edelman for a 16-yard pickup, and the next on a dime down the middle for a 37-yard touchdown pass to Cordarrelle Patterson.

Brady finished with 358 yards and three touchdowns.

The afternoon featured vintage Brady and Gronkowski, who topped the 100-yard mark for the first time since Week 1.

Gronkowski's eight-catch, 107-yard performance seemed to be a confidence-builder.

"I'm making plays, blocking, getting some chemistry built back up," Gronkowski said. "I wish we could have put up more points when we could have in the red zone. But as a unit, we were playing well, moving the ball, and we've just got to continue that positive streak going of moving the ball on the offensive side."

Gordon dominated on slant routes, snatching the ball out of the air on high throws and racking up yards after the catch. The Dolphins secondary had worlds of trouble getting him to the ground.

"We, I think, performed offensively pretty well," said Gordon, who finished with five receptions for 96 yards. "I know how much work we put in leading up to this game. So for it to end that way, it just doesn't seem like that's the end result for us, like that's not the end of the story. We know we've got more to prove and more to offer."

Brady downplayed the success of the offense, pointing to the inefficient rushing attack (30 attempts for 77 yards).

"We had some productivity," Brady said. "I thought we did a good job in certain areas. We left some out there. With the run game, we've got to make more yards in the run game and control the line of scrimmage that way too."

Brady is the NFL's undisputed touchdown king.

With his 2-yard touchdown pass to Edelman in the second quarter, Brady broke a tie for the most touchdown tosses, including playoffs, in NFL history.

Brady now stands at 580 career touchdown passes. He tied Peyton Manning's mark of 579 career TD passes during last week's win over the Minnesota Vikings.

The 41-year-old signal-caller is no stranger to the NFL record book. He entered Sunday with the record for most career passing yards (79,727) and most touchdown passes to different receivers (71) among other notable marks. The Patriots are hoping to clinch their 10th consecutive AFC East title with a win, which would break the NFL record for most consecutive playoff berths.

And finally. ... While the Pats took a brutal loss in Miami, they appeared to emerge without any significant injuries.

Only one Patriots player - tight end Dwayne Allen - was inactive due to injury. Allen has missed three straight games with a knee issue.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Danny Etling
RBs: Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, James Develin
WRs: Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen

New Orleans Saints

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett wrote, "In the end, the drought lasted less than 100 minutes.

"But, man, did it feel like an eternity while it was happening. ..."

Fantasy owners would agree. The New Orleans Saints' offense looked lost for nearly seven straight quarters after a historic start to the season. A total of 10 points, 287 yards and three turnovers over the course of 15 possessions.

They lost 13-10 at Dallas in Week 13, then they fell behind 14-3 midway through the third quarter at Tampa Bay in Week 14.

Then, just as suddenly, the floodgates opened and they were back to scoring 25 points in less than 20 minutes to beat the Buccaneers 28-14 and finish Sunday as the No. 1 team in the NFC standings.

"A lot of people expect us to come out and be perfect, but that's just not reality," running back Alvin Kamara said. "You know, people make mistakes. We may start slow sometimes. But it's not when adversity hits, it's how you respond to it. And I think this team responds well to adversity."

So what to make of the Saints over the past two weeks?

Is it discouraging that their unstoppable offense suddenly looked so stoppable? Or is it encouraging that they were able to shake it off the way that they did on Sunday?

According to Triplett, the answer is a little of both.

Triplett went on to suggest it's a shame the Saints (11-2) and Drew Brees had to prove they're actually human after they entered Week 13 as one of the five highest-scoring teams in NFL history through the first 11 games of a season. Brees, who went from one turnover in the first 10 games, now has four turnovers over the past three weeks -- which could severely ding his MVP candidacy.

And it's a bit scary to imagine the Saints facing the Bears' defense or even the Cowboys' defense again in the playoffs the way those units have been performing lately.

But every offense is capable of a dud, now and again (see: The Los Angeles Rams' 15-6 loss at Chicago on Sunday night). And Triplett notes the Saints have a long enough track record to prove they still have one of the best quarterbacks, one of the best play callers, one of the best wide receivers, one of the best RB duos and one of the best offensive lines in the game.

And what was so important about the Saints' finish at Tampa Bay is how they never lost confidence -- and how quickly they got back into their rhythm as they scored a total of 25 points in four possessions.

"We just gotta get our swag, man," Kamara said. "We've been playing with swag for how long, for how many weeks in a row? ... And then to play three [games in 12 days from Week 11-13], we just [had to] get our swag back.

"So I think we found it in the third quarter, we're back on track and back on pace to do what we've been doing -- and that's dominate."

"Man, it's just a resilient group. We've got a gritty group," Ingram added. "We have a group that believes in each other, that no matter what arises throughout the game, ups and downs, whatever obstacles present themselves in the game, we feel like we can overcome them.

"We believe in each other. Our defense has been playing strong. Even though we were struggling early in the game, they kept fighting for us, giving us a chance to get back in it."

The biggest concern for the Saints' offense going forward is probably their lack of wide receiver depth.

While it was a neat story that Brees made history by throwing touchdown passes to four different undrafted players in Week 12 against Atlanta, he hasn't found any receiver who he can consistently count on outside of Michael Thomas.

Fellow starter Tre'Quan Smith doesn't have a single catch over the past two weeks, while Brees has thrown for a total of just 328 yards in those two games.

From a fantasy perspective, it's become all but impossible to rely on any wideout on the team beyond Thomas.

One certainty: Brandon Marshall isn't the answer. He was released on Wednesday.

The veteran has been inactive for the past four weeks in favor of Smith, Keith Kirkwood or Austin Carr and Tommylee Lewis.

Ideally, the Saints could get veteran Ted Ginn Jr. back from injured reserve at some point (more on that below).

Everything else looks correctable.

The Saints' biggest problem on Sunday was their lack of a run game early. Ingram and Kamara combined for a total of 2 yards on nine carries until they turned things around midway through the third quarter following a game-changing blocked punt by Taysom Hill.

But Ingram and Kamara finished with a combined 101 rushing yards over their last 16 carries in the second half. ...

Head coach Sean Payton said on Monday that Ginn and offensive lineman Josh LeRibeus could be activated from injured reserve.

"Both [Ginn] and LeRibeus have progressed, I would say, on schedule," Payton said, via NOLA.com. "So each week we'll look at that, we'll talk about it during the beginning of the week, get an update from our medical team. But I'm encouraged with how both of those guys are doing."

Ginn had knee surgery in October and is eligible to play now. He had 12 catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns in four games. ...

On Wednesday, the Saints claimed TE Erik Swoope on waivers, according to Profootballtalk.com. Swoope was waived by the Colts earlier this week.

One last note here. ... As ESPN.com suggested this week, at this point, Hill is well recognized and he will soon lose his unheralded-baller eligibility.

The Saints' No. 3 QB also participates as a returner, read-option specialist, receiver and running back. But he is still surprising people with everything he can do on the field. His latest magic trick? It was a blocked punt that woke up the Saints. New Orleans scored on its ensuing drive and began a 25-0 second-half run that led to a comeback win.

On Wednesday, Hill was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill
RBs: Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Dwayne Washington
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Tre'quan Smith, Keith Kirkwood, Austin Carr
TEs: Ben Watson, Josh Hill, Dan Arnold

New York Giants

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wasn't available for Sunday's 40-16 demolition of the Washington Redskins. He was back home in New Jersey dealing with a bruised quadriceps.

As ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan notes, "It didn't matter. The Giants' offense had running back Saquon Barkley, its new centerpiece. ..."

Raanan went on to concede that's a reality that has been unfolding ever since the bye week, with or without Beckham in the lineup. The Giants are running everything around Barkley, who was drafted second overall this year.

"He's a tremendous player and I think we're starting to figure out that this offense runs through him a little bit," quarterback Eli Manning said. "When we're running the ball, it sets up everything else. It sets up the play action and it sets up so much."

It has looked like the appropriate approach. The Giants (5-8) won for the fourth time in five games on Sunday, and Barkley had 197 total yards and a touchdown. He rushed for a career-high 170 yards on 14 carries, including a 78-yard run in the second quarter.

It was Barkley's fourth touchdown run of 50 or more yards. The Giants had had three such runs over the previous 10 seasons. That's how special this rookie has been. Even when he did make a mistake, dropping a pass in the first quarter, Barkley went to offensive line on the bench and took the blame. He promised to atone for the mistake.

"He's a terrific player. Again, he's a generational spirit on the sideline. I think I've said that before," head coach Pat Shurmur said. "There are a lot of things about him that make him special."

If the rookie running back wasn't trucking Redskins cornerback Josh Norman, he was snagging the ball one-handed with his left hand. If he wasn't cutting across the field and making defenders miss, he was hitting 21.91 mph down the left sideline on a touchdown run. It was the best max speed on a rushing touchdown this season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. It topped the 21.74 mph Tennessee's Derrick Henry hit on Thursday night.

"Gotta hit 22 [mph]," Barkley said when told of his speed.

That was one of many impressive moments for Barkley and the Giants on Sunday, when everything seemed to go right. It was the most points they scored in a game since the 2015 season.

The Giants took advantage of Redskins quarterback Mark Sanchez; their defense forced three turnovers and scored a touchdown for the third time in four games.

Manning had time and open receivers and hit them for chunks with regularity. He finished with three touchdown passes on 22 pass attempts.

"We've talked about it all along, but especially the past five weeks," Shurmur said. "Everybody has to do their job and we've done a better job of protecting for Eli. Running the ball. Playing a better style of team offense. I think that helps every quarterback. I'm certainly pleased with the way Eli's led us here."

But for the Giants, the machine now begins with Barkley. His presence alone opens things up for wide receiver Sterling Shepard, tight end Evan Engram and Beckham, when healthy.

At least that appears to be the plan now and moving forward. The Giants are averaging 31.4 points per game over the past five weeks.

So with the Giants still playing for something -- even if it's just momentum going into next season -- it will be with Manning as the starting quarterback.

He's played well during this current run (10 TD passes, 2 interceptions in the five games) and won his way into this spot. With each solid performance, the odds of him returning for another season increase. Manning has one year remaining on his current deal. He will be 38 years old next month.

Meanwhile, Shurmur said on Sunday that Beckham's injury has been lingering, which, as Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper suggests, may lead to an inquiry from the league about why Beckham had not appeared on any injury reports over the last six weeks.

On Monday, Shurmur gave an update about Beckham's chances of throwing cold water on the Titans' ambitions in Week 15.

"Odell came in today, felt a lot better than he did Friday and Saturday," Shurmur said. "He received some treatments over the weekend, so he feels better and we'll just see where that takes us. It's too early to tell."

Notice Shurmur did not commit to Beckham returning this week, but the early outlook points to Beckham returning against the Titans this Sunday. When asked about the injury in the locker room, Beckham gave a thumbs up and said he is "getting there."

Beckham was limited in Wednesday's practice; I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Beyond that, I'll note that Corey Coleman led Giants wide receivers with 43 receiving yards on Sunday while Sterling Shepard, Russell Shepard and Bennie Fowler all caught touchdowns from Manning.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Eli Manning, Davis Webb, Kyle Lauletta
RBs: Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman
WRs: Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Russell Shepard, Jawill Davis, Bennie Fowler, Corey Coleman, Cody Latimer
TEs: Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Jerell Adams

New York Jets

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Rich Cimini reported, in three weeks, the New York Jets' big bosses -- owner Woody Johnson and CEO Christopher Johnson -- will set a new course for the franchise. In all likelihood they will fire head coach Todd Bowles, who won Sunday for the first time in 56 days.

The real question involves general manager Mike Maccagnan, who is equally culpable for the Jets' 4-9 record.

Maccagnan hasn't distinguished himself as an ace talent evaluator, but the sense around the team is that he probably will get the chance to proceed with the rebuilding plan he hatched in 2017. Days like Sunday will help his cause. This after his two most important player acquisitions from last offseason, quarterback Sam Darnold and cornerback Trumaine Johnson, came through in the fourth quarter of the Jets' 27-23 victory over the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field.

Shaking off the rust from a four-week layoff, Darnold was the comeback kid as he rallied the Jets from 20-13 and 23-20 deficits with two long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. It was like his 2016 season at USC, except 50 degrees colder. He made plays with his arm and his feet, validating his lofty draft position. That he outplayed fellow rookie Josh Allen, whom Maccagnan rated lower than Darnold as a prospect, made the GM look smart.

"He has the right makeup," backup/mentor Josh McCown said of Darnold. "Those are the things that you look for and you want in quarterback that's going to lead your franchise for a long time. Today was a glimpse of that."

Cimini reminded readers that Maccagnan has missed on a bunch of draft choices -- only one of 28 picks, safety Jamal Adams, is a true impact player -- but he can buy time for himself if Darnold develops into a productive starter. This is how it works: Solve the quarterback riddle, which has vexed this franchise for decades, and you're good. It's the great equalizer, one that can make cynics forget about Christian Hackenberg, Devin Smith, ArDarius Stewart, et al.

Darnold played his best game in two months, infusing hope into an organization that appeared dead during a six-game losing streak.

Darnold cost them three second-round draft picks, the price for trading up. Johnson cost them straight cash, and a lot of it -- $34 million guaranteed included in a five-year, $72.5 million contract. Until two weeks ago, he looked like another free-agent disappointment, but he has come to life with three interceptions (one for a touchdown) in the past two games.

On Sunday, Johnson recorded his third and fourth interceptions, sealing the game with a last-minute pick. He missed five games with a quadriceps injury, so we're talking four interceptions in eight games. Not bad. Maybe, just maybe, Maccagnan didn't flush away a boatload of money.

"It's not about me," Johnson said. "I just made some plays. It's not about me. ... I don't pay no mind to [the criticism]. I never paid no mind to it in St. Louis, in L.A., now in New York. It is what it is. They love you, they hate you and they love you again."

Maccagnan hasn't fared well with big-ticket contracts (see: Muhammad Wilkerson and Darrelle Revis), so a strong finish by Johnson would help change the perception that Maccagnan doesn't spend wisely when he has a lot of money to burn.

The offseason will be critical in that regard, as the Jets will have close to $100 million in cap space. If the owners don't trust the GM to make wise investments, they shouldn't keep him around.

The decision is multilayered because ownership must decide if a Maccagnan-led front office will be attractive to prospective coaching candidates and if it will empower him to make the hire. Remember, Bowles wasn't his choice; it was arranged.

This had been a tough few days for Maccagnan. On Friday, his first-round pick in 2016 -- Darron Lee -- was suspended four game for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. The only thing worse than an underachieving player is an underachieving player with off-the-field issues.

"It's a great disappointment," Bowles said of Lee's suspension. "He made a big mistake and only time will tell whether he learned from it or not."

Things change quickly in the NFL. Two days after the embarrassing suspension, Maccagnan saw some of his handiwork pay off. Aside from Darnold and Johnson, former draft pick Elijah McGuire scored the game-winning touchdown, a 1-yard run with 1:17 to play.

As Cimini summed up, "Big day for the Jets. A bigger day for the GM. ..."

And for a team with noting to consider at this point but the future, that's something. ...

On the injury front. ... As Profootballtalk.com framed it Tuesday, "The Jets will have somebody at running back Saturday against Houston. The question is: Who?"

Their top three running backs are ailing.

Isaiah Crowell (toe), McGuire (ankle) and Trenton Cannon (toe) were sidelined by injuries on Tuesday.

McGuire and Cannon were upgraded to limited on Wednesday while Crowell sat out again.

Crowell wore a walking boot on his left foot Tuesday.

"The pain was excruciating" on Sunday, Crowell told Cimini.

The Jets have 336 rushes for 1,381 yards and nine touchdowns this season. Crowell, McGuire and Cannon have combined for 212 carries for 923 yards and eight touchdowns.

Bilal Powell, who is on injured reserve with a neck injury, has 80 carries for 343 yards this season.

Quarterback Sam Darnold, who has the team's other rushing touchdown, went through a full practice Tuesday. Darnold injured his foot Sunday but missed only three plays.

The rookie said, via Brian Costello of the New York Post, that he has some soreness in his foot but feels "great."

Quincy Enunwa (ankle) was also held out Tuesday and Wednesday, likely as a precaution. Whatever the case, I'll follow up on all involved via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Sam Darnold, Josh McCown
RBs: Elijah McGuire, Trenton Cannon
WRs: Quincy Enunwa, Jermaine Kearse, Robby Anderson, Andre Roberts
TEs: Chris Herndon, Jordan Leggett, Eric Tomlinson

Oakland Raiders

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

As they continue to move towards the future with head coach Jon Gruden as the centerpiece of the organization, the Raiders fired general manager Reggie McKenzie, effective immediately, on Monday.

McKenzie, 55, has been the Raiders' GM since 2012. He was under contract through the 2021 NFL draft as part of a four-year extension he signed in 2016.

Shaun Herock will serve as the Raiders' interim General Manager until Oakland settles on a full-time replacement for McKenzie, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports.

Many wondered whether McKenzie, the 2016 NFL executive of the year, would fit in the organizational flow chart when Gruden was hired in January. Both insisted they would work together and McKenzie recently said his job as general manager was to get Gruden the players that he wanted, not necessarily players that McKenzie liked.

"We're building this thing in concert together," McKenzie said in late October. "I'm talking about me and Coach Gru. We're doing this thing together."

Asked who might be "untouchable" on the Raiders roster as the trade deadline loomed, McKenzie joked, "I'm untouchable."

McKenzie also spoke of reports of a rift between him and Gruden, calling it "comical."

"You talked about pulling the strings, and you know, Gruden and I, we work together very well," McKenzie said at the time. "Let's make no mistakes about it. Him pushing me out, that's not happening. Me not being able to work with Gruden, that's furthest from the truth. OK? We work really well together.

"We're in each other's offices all the time. Talking about players, who's up, who's down. Who I would like to see play more. Practice squad guys. About moving this guy. Claiming this guy. Trading. Guys calling me about trading this guy -- here's what I think, what do you think?

"Moving forward, when you talk about the negativity that I hear is between me and Gruden, there's been times I want to make a statement and say, 'Really?'"

As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez noted, the roster has been torn down, with the high-profile trades of All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack on Sept. 1 and Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper on Oct. 22, hastening the rebuild in Oakland less than two years before the franchise moves to Las Vegas.

In fact, only nine of McKenzie's 50 pre-Gruden draft picks (from 2012 through 2017) are on the Raiders' 53-man roster, and 36 current players did not spend a single day on Oakland's 53-man roster last season.

Raiders owner Mark Davis lauded the financial efforts of McKenzie, whom he often referred to as his "guy" upon hiring him three months after the death of Al Davis, crediting McKenzie's acumen in getting the Raiders out of "salary-cap hell."

But other than the 2014 draft, which netted Mack, quarterback Derek Carr, right guard Gabe Jackson and defensive tackle Justin Ellis, McKenzie's picks have left much to be desired, Davis said in a recent interview.

"It's been all part of an evolution, but I think it's becoming clearer and clearer to Jon as well that the talent is just not here at this time," Davis told ESPN.com last month.

"The drafts did not help supplement what we were doing in the free-agent market. If you look at our roster now, it's a bunch of free-agent one-year guys that are mercenaries. And they're great guys and they're Raiders. Once a Raider, always a Raider ... but we just don't have the overall talent of a 22-man roster."

Davis said on the night of Nov. 11, when the Raiders fell to 1-8, that the "buck" stopped with him, though he and McKenzie needed to "sit down and talk and figure out how we are going to go about the future. We've got to look in the mirror and figure out, where the hell did we go wrong in trying to build this thing?

"We failed. I have failed. But at the same time, we wouldn't have been in the great position we were in without Reggie McKenzie being here."

Since that night, the Raiders are 2-2.

One of those wins game Sunday.

And it prompted Gutierrez to ask when is winning actually, gulp, losing?

From one perspective, when you are in full rebuild mode and in need of the No. 1 draft pick, you lose by winning, so to speak.

And by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-21 on Sunday at the Oakland Coliseum, the Raiders damaged those chances, even with the San Francisco 49ers also winning.

Both the Raiders and Niners are 3-10, though the Niners, due to a weaker strength of schedule, hold the tie-breaker advantage for an earlier pick.

While they may have blown their shot at the No. 1 draft pick, the momentary elation was worth it in showing actual progress in a rebuilding season under Gruden, who took off to acknowledge the Black Hole section of fans after the win.

Besides, with three first-round picks (they own Chicago's and Dallas'), the Raiders already control the draft. ...

Also of interest. ... On fourth-and-goal from the 6-yard line, Carr hit his No. 3 tight end, Derek Carrier, for the game-winning TD with 21 seconds left to shock the Steelers.

It was the seventh-year veteran's second career score and his first since 2015 with Washington. Right man, right place? "Derek, to me, is one of those 'joker' kind of players," Carr said. "He's one of those tight ends that runs 4:40, jumps a 40-inch vert and all those kind of things -- super explosive."

Carrier's limited role working behind the far more dangerous (and also explosive) Jared Cook keeps him from fantasy relevance. But it won't keep him from making an occasional play.

And finally. ... According to ESPN's Field Yates, the Raiders released C.J. Anderson on Tuesday. It was a short stay in Oakland for the veteran running back.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Derek Carr, AJ McCarron
RBs: Doug Martin, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington
WRs: Jordy Nelson, Marcell Ateman, Seth Roberts, Keon Hatcher
TEs: Jared Cook, Derek Carrier, Lee Smith

Philadelphia Eagles

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Tim McManus put it, "The Philadelphia Eagles' push for division supremacy abruptly ended inside Jerry's World on Sunday, as familiar issues finally toppled them from the high wire."

A 29-23 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys drops the Eagles' chances of winning the NFC East from about 50-50 to about nil.

Carson Wentz threw two touchdown passes in a span of just over 1½ minutes near the end of regulation. But Wentz and the Eagles offense never got on the field again after Darren Sproles' 6-yard TD catch with 1:39 left tied the game at 23.

"It was a tough loss. We knew the stakes of this game," Wentz said.

"We're absolutely surprised where we're at. We never envisioned. ... A losing record at this point in the season," he said. "It's extremely frustrating where we're sitting right now."

Right now, the Eagles (6-7) are outside of the top six NFC teams to make the playoffs. They had won two in a row for the first time this season before going to Dallas, but now it appears they are throwing in the towel

Head coach Doug Pederson said Wednesday that Wentz will not take part in the day's practice because he's having back spasms.

Pederson added that the team would evaluate Wentz's injury over the course of the week when asked if there was any risk that Wentz will not play against the Rams on Sunday night. That may be a more optimistic outlook than the one actually in place, however.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that Wentz is not expected to play against the Rams.

Rapoport added the team is still gathering information about the issue and that he may not play again this season depending on what comes up during that process.

If that's the case, Nick Foles would get the start for the final three regular season games for the second year in a row. Foles went on to start three more games in the postseason as the Eagles won the Super Bowl and the team's best chance of getting back to the postseason would be for Foles to author another three-game winning streak.

I'll obviously be following up on this one as needed via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Perhaps a quarterback change will result in a greater commitment to run, something we certainly didn't see in Dallas.

Josh Adams rushed for 30 yards on three carries on the Eagles' first possession, but touched the ball just four more times the rest of the game.

Running back Corey Clement wasn't involved in the wild fourth quarter or overtime on Sunday because he injured his knee early in the game.

Clement lost four yards on his first carry, which ended with Clement being twisted to the ground in a fashion that left him hurting. Clement wouldn't return to the contest and Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that Clement is believed to have suffered a knee sprain.

Clement was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Tuesday.

Adams, Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood were the other backs in Philly, until Tuesday, when they signed running back Boston Scott off the Saints' practice squad to fill Clement's roster spot.

Scott, 23, rushed for 1,840 yards and scored 15 total touchdowns in 38 games at Louisiana Tech. He also averaged 21.8 yards on 29 kickoff returns.


Also of interest. ... As Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper notes, the reasons why the Eagles have gone from a Super Bowl title to a 6-7 record through the first 13 games of this season have been debated often and one point that's been raised is the changes to the offensive coaching staff.


Offensive coordinator Frank Reich became the Colts head coach and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo moved to the Vikings for what turned out to be a short stay as the Vikings' offensive coordinator.


DeFilippo was fired on Tuesday, which means he could rejoin the Eagles for the final weeks of the season as they try to find their way back to the postseason. Pederson was asked about that possibility at his Wednesday press conference.


Pederson said that DeFilippo did a great job with the team, but that he is confident in the current staff and would not be moving to bring DeFilippo back to Philadelphia right now. That leaves it to the current staff to pull out a postseason bid in games against the Rams, Texans and Washington over the next three weeks.

And finally. ... For what it's worth, when the Eagles scored their touchdown with 1:39 remaining in regulation to get within one point in a game they never led, they faced a decision: They could attempt to tie it with an extra point - Jake Elliott missed one earlier in the game - or they could try to take their first lead with a two-point attempt.

The Eagles are 5-for-5 on two-point tries this season.

Pederson chose to kick the extra point, and the Eagles never saw the ball again.

"I got a report on this," the coach said in his press conference Monday. "I can't off the top of my head think of exactly the numbers, but everything was in favor of going for one. We had the discussion on the field during the penalty timeout, so to speak, to make that decision. And with Dallas having a minute and 39 seconds I think left with two timeouts, it changes. Follow me here, OK? Two situations. [The first is] go for two. Obviously, you make the two-point conversion and you're up one, right? Dallas has two timeouts and every down available to stay on the field and kick the game-winning field goal, right? Obviously, if we don't make it, chances are game is probably over, right?

"[The second situation is] we kick it, we tie. Now Dallas still has two timeouts. Now, they're not as likely to go for it on fourth down, right? There is a chance now fourth-and-eight that they say, 'You know what? We're going to punt the football.' We only have one timeout at the time, with maybe no time left, and you're still playing for overtime. So the decision to go for one obviously favors us and gives us a better chance of winning that football game than it did for two."

A reporter reminded Pederson he authored a book after last season called "Fearless."

Pederson reiterated the Eagles "played the percentages" that gave them the best chance to win.

"I understand what you're saying," Pederson said. "Again, with two timeouts and all four downs and we hadn't really stopped them - we can spin this thing a hundred different ways. I mean, I don't know. I still stand by my decision."

It just didn't work out for the Eagles this time as the Cowboys scored the game-winning touchdown on the first possession of overtime after running out the final 1:39 to end regulation.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld, Carson Wentz
RBs: Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles
WRs: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Golden Tate, Jordan Matthews, Mike Wallace, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson
TEs: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Richard Rodgers

Pittsburgh Steelers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

A team that kept finding ways to win during a six-game winning streak now has fallen short at the end for a third straight game.

A slick field that led to kicker Chris Boswell losing his footing on a potential game-tying kick is to blame this time.

Boswell missed a 40-yard attempt after the Steelers used a hook-and-lateral to get into position following Derek Carr's go-ahead touchdown pass that sent Pittsburgh to a 24-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

"Sometimes it makes it worse when it's right there," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "If you get blown out it doesn't seem to hurt as bad as when you have a chance."

The Steelers (7-5-1) have sure had their chances during their current skid. Roethlisberger threw an interception at the goal line with just over a minute left of a 24-17 loss to Denver on Nov. 25 and Pittsburgh then lost last week when Mike Badgley made a field goal on the final play in a 33-30 victory for the Chargers last week.

This week it was a missed kick by Pittsburgh that determined the outcome. Boswell also missed a 39-yard field goal against the Raiders (3-10) and has six missed field goals and five missed extra points for the most combined missed kicks in the NFL this season.

Head coach Mike Tomlin called Boswell's slump disappointing and wouldn't commit to sticking with his kicker long term.

"He's not the only one disappointed," Boswell said. "I mean this is a business. You're evaluated by results and I'm not getting it done right now so whatever happens from here happens."

The loss cost the Steelers a chance to open up some ground in the AFC North race with Baltimore. The Steelers still lead the Ravens by a half-game, but have matchups with New England and at New Orleans the following two weeks.

As Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow noted, Roethlisberger almost led an impressive comeback after missing the first four series of the second half with a rib injury. He returned to the game after backup Joshua Dobbs failed to generate any points on four drives and Derek Carr gave Oakland a 17-14 lead with a 3-yard TD pass to Lee Smith with 5:20 to play.

Big Ben then led a 75-yard drive capped by his second 1-yard TD pass of the game to JuJu Smith-Schuster, putting Pittsburgh on top 21-17 with 2:55 to go.

But Roethlisberger was only a spectator as Carr drove the Raiders to the go-ahead score, a 6-yard pass on fourth down to Derek Carrier with 23 seconds left.

"We're there at the ball," Tomlin said. "We're not making plays on the ball. Probably equally as frustrating is we're not making them and they are. It's not like those balls are falling incomplete so we still have work to do."

Pittsburgh almost overcame that when Roethlisberger threw a short pass to James Washington for a 5-yard gain. Washington then flipped the ball to Smith-Schuster, who raced down the sideline for 43 more yards to set up Boswell's kick that went right into the line when he lost his footing.

"The field is the field," he said. "You can't complain about it. You can't blame anything. It's as bad as it is for me as it is for anyone else. You just have to find a way to put it through."

Meanwhile, Roethlisberger said he assumes he'll be available for the Week 15 clash with the New England Patriots.

But perhaps Roethlisberger could have prevented the loss to the Raiders if he were on the field sooner. Roethlisberger said he was waiting for Tomlin to "tell me when to go" back into action.

Tomlin explained why he waited to give that green light.

"He got looked at halftime. He got treatment, he came back out," Tomlin said of his quarterback. "We were waiting to see if he was gonna be able to come back in. He was. He probably could've come in a series or so sooner, but we were in the rhythm and flow of the game. He was ready to go when he got back out there."

Roethlisberger subsequently explained the situation step by step on Tuesday.

At halftime, he went to the X-ray room at the antiquated Oakland Coliseum. Roethlisberger said that it took some time for the tech to show up, and that the X-rays were inconclusive. Roethlisberger attributed that to the X-ray machine being "old."

He said that, by the time the X-rays were taken and the team's doctor was figuring out what to do, the third quarter had begun. Roethlisberger initially returned to the field with the goal of being available to backup Dobbs and otherwise providing support to his teammates, and without a clear indication as to whether he'd play.

Roethlisberger said he "got some medicine," which means he took a pain-killing injection. Concern nevertheless lingered about possibly making the situation worse, because they still didn't know what the injury was.

For a while, the Steelers decided to let the game play itself out.

Eventually, the medication kicked in, the Steelers lost their lead with 5:20 to play, and Roethlisberger told Tomlin, "I'm all right. I'll give you everything I've got."

They now know what the injury is after a Monday MRI, but Roethlisberger declined to disclose it. He said he'll play on Sunday against the Patriots.

For the record, Roethlisberger, who finished 25-of-29 passing for 282 yards and two touchdowns. "So, I felt OK."

The Steelers' offense struggled without him. Dobbs completed 4 of 9 passes for 24 yards and an interception in four series of work. The running game never came alive in the absence of the injured James Conner.

Backups Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley combined for 32 yards on 16 carries Sunday.

The second-leading rusher was Dobbs, who had 15 yards on two scrambles.

Samuels started and had 28 yards on 11 carries in addition to 64 yards on seven receptions. Ridley gained four yards on five carries, although his 2-yard touchdown run tied the score, 7-7, in the second quarter.

"We didn't run the ball as well as we'd like," Tomlin said, "but that's an 11-man job for our offensive unit."

Conner's status for this weeks' game is uncertain at best. Tomlin said the team will monitor the halfback's condition throughout the week and see how everything unfolds before making a final decision.

Wednesday will bring the first practice and first injury report of the week.

As for Roethlisberger. ... Despite knee injuries in 2015 and 2016, Big Ben has been largely healthy the past two seasons. But he has work to do to extend his playoff streak to a fifth consecutive season. A three-game losing streak leaves Pittsburgh at 7-5-1, a half-game ahead of the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North.

"We all need to look in the mirror and figure out what's going on," he said. "It starts with each individual. We need to look inside first."

With a brutal three-game stretch with a trip to New Orleans and a home closer against Cincinnati looming after this week's game against the Patriots, the only certainty with the Steelers' playoff push is they're at their best with the ball in Roethlisberger's hands.

Stay tuned. I'll have more on Roethlisberger and Conner via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...

As for Boswell. ... Tomlin said at his Tuesday press conference that the team acknowledges that Boswell has not performed up to par and that they are "willing to explore options" as they prepare for this week's game against the Patriots.

Tomlin said that sticking with Boswell will be one of those options and didn't specify when they might be auditioning others, but it happened early Wednesday when the Steelers flew in free-agent kickers Kai Forbath and Matt McCrane for a competition with Boswell, according to an NFL Network report.

It seems likely that we'll get an idea of who's in the mix at some point in the next couple of days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs
RBs: James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Stevan Ridley
WRs: Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Eli Rogers, Ryan Switzer, Darrius Heyward-Bey
TEs: Vance McDonald, Jesse James, Xavier Grimble

San Francisco 49ers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

According to Associated Press sports writer Jane McCauley, Kyle Shanahan pulled aside his star tight end and apologized to George Kittle for not getting him more opportunities in the second half to set an NFL record.

The coach even said sorry a second time.

Quarterback Nick Mullens placed the blame on himself after Kittle fell 4 yards short of Shannon Sharpe's NFL record by a tight end of 214 yards receiving.

Kittle still had a brilliant Sunday afternoon, making an 85-yard touchdown reception on the way to 210 yards receiving and becoming the 49ers' first tight end to reach the 1,000-yard milestone to lead San Francisco past the sluggish, injury-plagued Denver Broncos 20-14.

"Four yards, ahhh, it's all right," Kittle shrugged nonchalantly, unfazed by a near miss. "Next time. Just talk to Nick and Coach Shanahan, they'll figure it out."

Kittle's long TD reception on a pass from Mullens early in the second quarter put the Niners up 13-0 - "George flashed in my eyes," his QB said - and Denver (6-7) never found a groove in seeing its three-game winning streak snapped.

Kittle had all of his yards and seven receptions in the first half and was targeted just once after halftime. Again, no big deal.

"We won. That's about all that matters," Kittle said.

Dante Pettis added a 1-yard touchdown reception just before halftime for the Niners (3-10).

But this was Kittle's sparkling afternoon from the very start. He has provided a major lift for an offense that dealt with the blow of losing starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Week 3 at Kansas City.

"We had one blown coverage, and a couple where we just didn't cover him," Broncos coach Vance Joseph said.

Mullens connected on eight of his first 12 throws for 124 yards and wound up 20 of 33 for 332 yards and a 102.1 rating.

"George had one heck of a day, 4 yards short of the record. You can blame that on me, I guess," Mullens said.

Of course, there's very little negativity surrounding Kittle.

As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner notes, the second-year tight end out of Iowa now has three catches this season of 70 or more yards, the most in the NFL. He is the only player with multiple 80-yard receptions this season. No other tight end has one such catch.

According to NFL NextGenStats, Kittle reached a max speed of 20.39 miles per hour on his touchdown catch, the fastest max speed on a reception in his career and the third-fastest by a tight end this season. Even when the Broncos managed to cover Kittle, he found a way to make a difference. Three Broncos were flagged for defensive holding while trying to defend Kittle.

In addition, Kittle's 52-yard catch and run to end the first quarter moved him past Vernon Davis for the 49ers franchise record for yards receiving by a tight end in a season.

Kittle came in needing 73 yards to top Davis' mark of 965 yards set in 2009.

"It's an honor. ... He set the standard," Kittle said.

Kittle now has 69 catches for 1,103 yards and four touchdowns this season with three games to go.

Missing out on a record that seemed like a sure thing at halftime is undoubtedly disappointing, but Kittle has put up big numbers in a losing effort before.

It's safe to say he'll take the victory and future potential records instead. And fantasy owners will continue to count on Kittle to deliver on a weekly basis. ...

For what it's worth, San Francisco ended a three-game skid. The 49ers had lost their previous two games by 18 and 27 points, including a 43-16 defeat at rival Seattle last week.

Overall, Kittle was amazing, Mullens (332 passing yards) was brilliant. However, the 49ers managed only two TDs and 20 points, none in the second half, with two turnovers.

That said, Pettis' confidence is growing.

The above-mentioned 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter gives the rookie wideout four touchdowns in three weeks. He had three catches for 49 yards, including one of the most important grabs of the game, a 31-yard catch and run to convert a third and 7 with 3:39 remaining to help seal the win.

Mullens' throw appeared headed to a Broncos defender in traffic, but the pass floated to a wide-open Pettis, who turned up field.

The play almost didn't happen because Shanahan was trying to call a timeout. But the officials ignored his request.

"Fortunately, the ref didn't hear me, which I started to get very worked up about," Shanahan said. "But then, it was a helluva job of him not hearing me. I was very happy and it worked out well."

Meanwhile, Sunday was a rare case in which the 49ers relied on one running back throughout the day.

Jeff Wilson Jr. had 90 yards on 23 carries while San Francisco played with the lead the entire game. Wilson has 230 yards from scrimmage over his last two games. Wilson had just 37 yards on 11 carries after halftime while Denver packed the box.

It remains to be seen how the workload will be divided when Matt Breida returns to action after sitting out against Denver to rest an injured ankle.

He worked on a limited basis in Wednesday's practice and I'll be following up via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...

Marquise Goodwin caught 2-of-2 targets for 20 yards in his return from a two-game absence to deal with personal issues; Pierre Garcon continued to miss time with an injured knee.

Garcon will miss more. As in the rest of the season.

For the second time in as many seasons with the 49ers, Garcon will end his season on injured reserve after appearing in just eight games.

Shanahan said Monday that Garcon is set to have arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday, and the team will place him on season-ending IR later this week.

Garcon has not played for the Niners since a Week 9 win against the Oakland Raiders because of lingering knee issues that flared up in Week 6.

Garcon can now get his knee taken care of, but he will head into the offseason with some uncertainty about his future.

Garcon signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal with the Niners on March 9, 2017. Although the Niners are responsible for the $7.2 million left of his prorated $12 million signing bonus, the rest of his contract is comprised of a series of option years, and the Niners could get out without any additional financial penalty.

The 49ers have until the end of the 2018 league year in March 2019 to exercise that option. Shanahan indicated that no decision will be made right away on Garcon's future with the team, but he said Garcon, 32, plans to continue playing.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Jeff Wilson, Alfred Morris, Kyle Juszczyk, Matt Breida
WRs: Marquise Goodwin, Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor, Richie James, Dante Pettis
TEs: George Kittle, Garrett Celek, Cole Hikutini

Seattle Seahawks

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner reminded readers, two games into the season, the Seattle Seahawks were winless, and for as much as they were seeking a victory, they were also in search of an identity.

On a team loaded with youth, it took veterans such as linebacker Bobby Wagner and offensive tackle Duane Brown to remind their young teammates that figuring out who you are takes longer than two weeks.

Judging by the Seahawks' 21-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night, it took something closer to 14 weeks.

Once Seattle finally discovered who it is, it was hard to deny that what's old looks new again.

"Great, hard-nosed defense, running the ball as an offense, a very physical group, that's what we tried to create over the season, and we've been able to accomplish that," Brown said. "Tonight was a prime example of that. It was just a grind it out, not very flashy game."

This win was undoubtedly ugly, with yards hard to come by and points even more scarce. That's exactly what should concern Seattle's potential playoff opponents.

Mathematically, the Seahawks have not yet clinched a playoff berth. But barring something catastrophic, the Seahawks will be playing in the games that matter most come January.

At 8-5, Seattle's chances of reaching the postseason are strong.

For much of this season, the Seahawks' defense hasn't looked dominant. But if the group that showed up Monday night can build on shutting down the Vikings, it will be exactly the type of salty outfit that can wreak havoc in the postseason.

The ideal complement for a strong defense? A power running game.

For a team that entered Monday leading the league with 148.8 rushing yards per game and calling a designed run play at a 48 percent rate -- unmatched in the NFL since 2014 -- the Seahawks hammered home the blueprint that has them on the verge of another postseason appearance.

By the time this ground-and-pound affair was over, the Seahawks had run the ball a whopping 40 times for 216 yards (not counting kneel-downs) and an average of 5.4 yards per attempt. Chris Carson led the way with 90 yards on 22 carries, but he got plenty of reinforcement from fellow back Rashaad Penny (eight carries for 44 yards) and quarterback Russell Wilson (five for 63).

At one point, Penny covered 83.06 yards of ground for a 17-yard gain -- the second time this season he has covered 80-plus yards on a run (the other went for 30 yards against Green Bay).

The Seahawks let the Vikings know immediately that they intended to run the ball and they intended to do so often. There was misdirection in those runs but not much in disguising them.

"We ran it 40-something times," head coach Pete Carroll said. "I don't know that it was anything other than just commitment. Our guys are pretty good at staying with it."

On 25 of the first 42 plays the Seahawks ran against the Vikings, the Seahawks lined up in a heavy formation with six offensive linemen.

According to NFL NextGenStats, the Seahawks called 17 runs out of that look, gaining 105 yards on those attempts. That package became a staple for the Seahawks starting in Week 5 -- they've used it on 46 percent of their rushing plays since -- and coincided with an overall boost in productivity for the run game.

Of course, for all of that to matter, the Seahawks will need the Wilson who showed up Monday night to give way to the one who normally occupies his spot. Sure, Wilson was without top target Doug Baldwin, but with the running game having so much success, there were opportunities for him to make plays down the field, most of which he was unable to convert.

Wagoner went on to note a glance at the playoff picture shows New Orleans' Drew Brees as the only quarterback as proven as Wilson on any NFC postseason contender. But while the Seahawks' defense and running game have turned back the clock, Seattle will need the Wilson who has led the charge most of the season -- not the one who went 10-of-20 for 72 yards and an ugly interception.

The good news is Wilson's track record would indicate that this was but a blip on the radar, and the Seahawks still managed to win. And as Wagoner summed up, "If Monday night was a precursor to the postseason, then the Seahawks just might be the team nobody in the NFC wants to play come January."

On the injury front. ... Penny was held out of practice Wednesday due to a knee injury; I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

According to Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times, Carroll said during an interview on 710 ESPN that linebacker Mychal Kendricks injured his knee Monday night, and might not be able to play this week at San Francisco. Subsequent report indicates the injury is a broken fibula.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Russell Wilson, Brett Hundley
RBs: Chris Carson, Mike Davis, Rashaad Penny, J.D. McKissic, Bo Scarbrough, C.J. Prosise
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, David Moore, Jaron Brown
TEs: Nick Vannett, Ed Dickson

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine reported, "The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the New Orleans Saints where they wanted them. They held a 14-3 halftime lead, stonewalled arguably the league's best rushing duo in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram and kept Drew Brees out of the end zone. ..."

But they couldn't sustain it. ...

A blocked punt by Taysom Hill in the third quarter, two missed field goal attempts by Cairo Santos, penalties from the offensive line and missed connections in the passing game sent the Bucs spiraling downward. New Orleans then scored 25 unanswered points to win 28-14, spoiling what looked to be a breakthrough game and the Bucs' chance to make a statement in a season that had looked to be long gone several weeks ago.

"It's frustrating ... demoralizing," tight end Cameron Brate said. His teammates echoed that same sentiment, with a few profane words overheard in the tunnel as the Bucs players retreated to the locker room.

As Laine went on to suggested, if only the Bucs (5-8) could have put together four quarters of cohesive football instead of self-destructing; it's a battle coach Dirk Koetter has fought since he became the head coach in 2016.

If only the Bucs could have relied on a passing attack that had been the backbone of their top-ranked offense all season, but instead, quarterback Jameis Winston completed 47.4 percent of his passes, the second-lowest completion percentage of his career.

"We've never struggled like that in our passing game. ... We're one of the best passing teams in the league, but we weren't today," Koetter said. "They played tight coverage on our guys all day. They had their guys right up on us."

Wide receiver Chris Godwin, who had 101 receiving yards and a touchdown the previous week against the Carolina Panthers, was held to only one catch on 10 targets. Leading receiver Mike Evans finished with four catches for 86 yards, but the game's longest reception was Evans' 36 yards on the opening drive. Brate's two touchdowns were the only real bright spot for the Bucs' offense.

Unlike Week 1, when Tampa Bay had more than 400 passing yards, the Saints -- statistically the league's worst pass defense -- mixed up their coverages and took away the Bucs' ability to push the ball downfield.

"It was hard for me to tell what [coverage] it was," said wide receiver Adam Humphries, who had four catches for 42 yards.

The offensive line also struggled to protect Winston, surrendering four sacks and 10 quarterback hits.

"Jameis was under duress all day," Koetter said. "[He] got hit too many times today. You can't have your quarterback getting hit that many times, whether it's scrambling, running."

Penalties didn't help. The offensive line had three on one drive alone, including two from center Ryan Jensen, taking the Bucs from a first-and- 10 at the Tampa Bay 43-yard line to a fourth-and-26 at the Tampa Bay 27 (linebacker Kevin Minter would tack on a false start on the punt, pushing them even farther back).

Winston actually had a heated conversation with Jensen on the sideline, and offensive line coach George Warhop and several teammates had to intervene.

"It was just a little argument. We cleared the air right away," Jensen said. "Nothing major. There was frustration -- everybody -- we felt like we had an opportunity to go and really put the pedal down and go. We had my personal foul, we had another holding call -- stuff like that. You can't win football games when you're committing penalties like that."

Winston said that the team shouldn't beat itself.

"Brothers have disagreements. We've just got to get everyone tuned back in and go out there and make sure that we are all for each other. ... We all know that we can't hold ourselves back. As you see, when we are on a roll, teams have trouble defending us."

Now at 5-8, the best the Bucs can hope for is to win out and finish at .500 while praying some teams around them collapse so they might have some glimmer of hope of reaching the playoffs. Both the Panthers (6-7) and Atlanta Falcons (4-9) lost on Sunday.

As the losses mount, Winston, Koetter and general manager Jason Licht also face uncertain futures.

Their recent two-game win streak had quieted some of the hot-seat discussion of recent weeks, but now Tampa Bay will hit the road to face the league's top two defenses in the Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys.

As Laine summed up, "The Bucs just have to learn to get out of their own way first."

As for whether he should return or not, Laine noted that what made Koetter an appealing hire to begin with in 2016 was continuity -- he had made strides as the Bucs' offensive coordinator with Winston in Year 1 and helped the offense rank in the top 5 in the league. Promoting Koetter to head coach meant the Bucs could make major changes to the defense without touching the offense.

The same holds true now.

Keeping Koetter would allow Tampa Bay to continue running an offense that has maintained a top-2 ranking and is averaging 430.1 yards per game this season. Yes, there have been knocks on the offense's ability to score points, but those numbers have gone up from 20.9 per game last season to 25.5 in 2018 -- a substantial improvement. If a new coach were brought in, there would likely be an adjustment period.

Also, players continue to play hard for Koetter, which proved to be a key reason the Bucs retained him last year despite a 5-11 record. Several players made it a point to state that they were still fighting for their coach even after Sunday's loss to the Saints. Players appreciate his honesty and they know where they stand with him.

Koetter's decision to hand over play calling to offensive coordinator Todd Monken took guts and showed he was more concerned with winning than he was with ego.

In the end, similar to last season, the Bucs' decision to retain Koetter or let him go will come down to the supply and demand of available coaches as the Browns and Green Bay Packers have already thrown their hats into the ring. It's something to watch in coming weeks. ...

On the injury front. ... DeSean Jackson said on Tuesday that he's played through a left thumb injury all season.

"I've just kind of been bearing through it," Jackson said, via Greg Auman of The Athletic.

But Jackson aggravated the injury against the Giants and has missed the past two games after making only three catches for 19 yards in Week 12.

Jackson's thumb remains immobilized, Auman reports.

While Jackson said he is following his doctor's timetable with hopes of returning this season, he remains unable to squeeze the football with his injured hand.

Jackson did not practice Wednesday; I'll have more via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant.

Beyond that, Auman reports the Bucs are putting linebacker Kevin Minter on IR because of a calf injury.

He played in five games for the Bucs after signing in October. He played a season-high 10 snaps in Sunday's loss to the Saints before leaving with the injury.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Ronald Jones
WRs: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Adam Humphries, Justin Watson, Freddie Martino, DeSean Jackson
TEs: Cameron Brate, Antony Auclair

Tennessee Titans

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

Mike Vrabel asked his Tennessee Titans to play physical in their third game in 11 days. With Derrick Henry leading the way with a handful of rushing records, they did just that with a big victory to stay in the AFC playoff chase.

Now they got a weekend to rest before their final road trip of the season, and then another short week.

"They've done everything we asked them to do," Vrabel said Friday on a conference call. "So, it'll be good to get some time off, get some guys healed up. I have to do a good job of managing the schedule, and still getting us ready for the Giants, but trying to get everybody back that we could possibly get back to help us try to win another game."

Among those who won't be playing again this season is tight end Jonnu Smith, hurt on Henry's NFL record-tying 99-yard touchdown run, who will miss the rest of the season with an injured knee. Right tackle Jack Conklin will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury as well.

Both players went on season-ending IR on Tuesday.

According to Associated Press sports writer Teresa Walker, losing Smith hurts the most. The Titans already lost three-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker in the season opener, while veteran Dennis Kelly is in line to replace Conklin after coming off the bench Thursday night. Kelly has started nine games for the Titans over the past three seasons.

Anthony Firkser, who caught all three of his targets for 27 yards against the Jaguars, appears to be the top receiving option at tight end with Smith out, although Luke Stocker is also in the mix.

Meanwhile, the Titans are coming off the franchise's best rushing performance in nearly a decade with Henry turning in 238 yards on just 17 carries for the best output in the NFL this season. Henry not only tied Tony Dorsett's 99-yard touchdown run for the longest in NFL history, but he also took the franchise rushing mark from Chris Johnson - set against the Jaguars on Nov. 1, 2009.

The Titans ran for 305 yards in that game and finished with 264 yards on Thursday night. That topped their previous best this season by 100 yards and helped Tennessee improve to 5-1 at home.

Yet, the running back insists he left meat on the bone.

"There were probably a couple runs I could have read better," Henry told Paul Kuharsky of paulkuharsky.com. "Overall, we're out there trying to make plays. I didn't think it as a perfect game. There is always something you can look at and improve on. Each player, anytime he watches film, watches a game, even if he had a good game, can focus on the things he needs to get better at, focus on this week."

Henry's 99-yard run against the Jaguars tied Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett's 1983 run from end zone to end zone against the Vikings. Henry's 238 yards broke the franchise record of 228 set by Chris Johnson in 2009.

Running backs coach Tony Dews laughed when asked how many yards Henry left on the field, but the running back wanted more.

"No, it wasn't close to perfect at all," Henry said. "You'll never have a perfect game. You strive for it. There was an inside zone play, I got like 3 yards; it could have been more, maybe a touchdown. I stayed front-side; I should have gone backside. I delivered a blow, but I could have gotten more I think if I'd have gone backside. I'm always going to be looking back at that, just trying to improve."

Whatever the case, being able to run effectively in the cold of December certainly can help, and the Titans visit the Giants (4-8) on Dec. 16 before wrapping up against Washington (6-6) and Indianapolis (6-6) in Nashville.

Vrabel said the key will be consistency and running like that each week. Henry will have a chance to help do that after not starting the last four games. Henry now leads the Titans with 712 yards and a career-high nine TDs rushing, averaging 4.9 yards per carry after his record-setting night.

"His attitude and his preparation has remained consistent," Vrabel said. "That was always good to see. We'll try to keep that going, obviously we have to try to keep that going. Just the confidence that it had for everybody on the team (Thursday) night."

Henry, who has been as hard on himself as anyone this season, said his concentration is on finishing runs and being efficient and consistent.

"I haven't been that all year, and that's my main focus from here on out," Henry said.

First, some rest after the Titans moved up momentarily to the seventh spot in the AFC, just out of the second wild-card position held by Baltimore. But Tennessee still needs lots of help with four teams still holding tiebreakers, including head-to-head losses.

Cornerback Logan Ryan said the Titans are in survive-and-advance mode.

"Right now, we know what time of year it is, and we're putting all our chips forward and going on to New York next week," Ryan said.

Indeed, as ESPN.com's Turron Davenport noted this week, running the football effectively in addition to playing suffocating defense is the formula for winning games in December. Being able to do both is a good sign for the Titans, who have to win next week on the road against the Giants to stay on pace for a wild-card spot. ...

A few final notes on Henry. ... His 47.8 points on ESPN.com's platform for Week 14 were the most since Todd Gurley had 49.6 on Christmas Eve last season, and the most in non-PPR leagues since Le'Veon Bell's 47.8 vs. the Bills in December 2016.

On Wednesday, Henry was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his effort.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis, David Fluellen
WRs: Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, Tajae Sharpe, Darius Jennings, Cameron Batson
TEs: Luke Stocker

Washington Redskins

Compiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 December 2018

As ESPN.com's John Keim noted on Sunday, the Washington Redskins have done two things lately: Lose and start new quarterbacks.

After losing their fourth consecutive game Sunday, they will turn to their fourth starting quarterback of the season. But this time it had nothing to do with an injury.

Head coach Jay Gruden told reporters they will start Josh Johnson, who went from playing in a pickup basketball charity tournament a week ago to being in charge of a team whose playoff hopes remain faintly alive. Johnson relieved Mark Sanchez late in the third quarter of Washington's 40-16 loss to the New York Giants.

Washington had been in control of the NFC East four weeks ago, leading second-place Dallas by two games. Since then, the Redskins (6-7) have lost four in a row as well as their top two quarterbacks to injuries. They remain in playoff contention, but with a defense that has allowed five of the past six opponents to gain more than 400 yards, they'll need Johnson to play at a high level.

"We'll get Josh ready to go," said Gruden, who worked with Johnson in 2008 with Tampa Bay and in 2013 with Cincinnati. "Fortunately he's been around me for a while and can handle the terminology, and he did a good job moving around."

Sunday's visit to the Jacksonville Jaguars will mark Johnson's first start since Week 13 of the 2011 season. He had attempted two passes since that game -- both a week after his most recent start -- before relieving Sanchez on Sunday.

Johnson said he learned his teammates by playing a video game.

"I had to play Madden to learn just the other day," he said. "You come in on a short week, you learn there's so many moving parts. For me, I played Madden. I was able to get on the Madden and learn my teammates."

What did he learn?

"I learned their names," he said.

In his postgame news conference, Gruden was asked what didn't work for Sanchez. The veteran completed 6 of 14 passes for 38 yards with two interceptions. He finished with a 10.7 passer rating.

"What did work?" Gruden said. "There's nothing that worked. Nothing worked. So everything did not work."

Johnson looked far more comfortable than Sanchez, completing 11 of 16 passes for 195 yards. Johnson threw for one touchdown and ran for another. He was also Washington's leading rusher, with 45 yards on seven runs.

Sanchez managed only two first downs in his 10 series. He also threw a pick-six when a pass from his own end zone was tipped and returned 9 yards for a touchdown by Curtis Riley.

Sanchez started in part because he'd been in Washington two weeks longer than Johnson. Sanchez came aboard after Alex Smith broke two bones in his leg, then became the starter after Colt McCoy broke his leg Monday at Philadelphia. The Redskins signed Johnson a day later.

"We do understand how difficult it is for him to come in and in a short amount of time to play," Gruden said.

Meanwhile, Jordan Reed was diagnosed with a toe muscle strain in Washington's loss to the Giants, Kareem Copeland of the Washington Post reports.

Reed was undergoing an MRI today as a precaution.

Gruden told reporters Monday there's a "level of concern" with the tight end's availability for the remainder of the season.

Reed had surgery on both big toes during the offseason and missed most of the preseason.

He played every game this season but left in the first quarter Sunday. Reed has yet to play all 16 games in a season. He made it through a career-high 14 games in 2015.

If he's unable to continue, Reed will finish the season with 54 receptions for 558 yards and two touchdowns. Vernon Davis replaced Reed on Sunday.

Also worth noting. ... Gruden told reporters on Monday that receiver Josh Doctson is in the concussion protocol.

Neither Reed nor Doctson were practicing Wednesday; I'll have more on both via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.

DEPTH CHART
QBs: Josh Johnson, Mark Sanchez, Colt McCoy
RBs: Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson, Samaje Perine
WRs: Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder, Maurice Harris, Michael Floyd, Cam Sims, Trey Quinn
TEs: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle, Jordan Reed